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Pope Francis: Bahrain trip ‘a new step’ in Christian-Muslim dialogue

November 9, 2022 Catholic News Agency 3
Pope Francis speaking at the general audience on St. Peter’s Square, Nov. 9, 2022 / Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 9, 2022 / 03:34 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Wednesday his trip to the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain was a new step on the journey to create “fraternal alliances” between Christians and Muslims.

The pope spoke about his Nov. 3-6 visit to Bahrain, a small, overwhelmingly Muslim country in the Persian Gulf, during his weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 9.

“The journey to Bahrain should not be seen as an isolated episode,” he said. “It was part of a process initiated by Saint John Paul II when he went to Morocco.”

This is why, he continued, “the first visit of a pope in Bahrain represents a new step on the journey between Christian and Muslim believers — not to confuse things or water down the faith, but to create fraternal alliances in the name of our Father Abraham, who was a pilgrim on earth under the merciful gaze of the one God of Heaven, the God of peace.”

“And why do I say that dialogue does not water down [the faith]?” Francis said. “Because to dialogue you have to have your own identity, you have to start from your identity. If you do not have identity, you cannot dialogue, because you do not understand what you are either.”

The Papal Swiss Guard at St. Peter's Square, Nov. 9, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA
The Papal Swiss Guard at St. Peter’s Square, Nov. 9, 2022. Daniel Ibáñez / CNA

The motto of Pope Francis’ visit to Bahrain was “Peace on earth to people of goodwill.” The trip included encounters with government officials, Muslim leaders, and the small Catholic community, including a Mass with around 30,000 people in Bahrain’s national soccer stadium.

The small Christian minority in Bahrain is mostly made up of immigrants, especially from India and the Philippines.

More than 70% of the total population — 1.5 million — is Muslim, while there are only about 161,000 Catholics living in the country, according to 2020 Vatican statistics.

Pope Francis said Wednesday it was “marvelous” to see the many Christian immigrants in Bahrain.

“The brothers and sisters in the faith, whom I met in Bahrain, truly live ‘on a journey,’” he said. “For the most part, they are immigrant laborers who, far from home, discover their roots in the People of God and their family within the larger family of the Church. And they move ahead joyfully, in the certainty that the hope of God does not disappoint.”

The pope pointed out that the Kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 islands, which “helps us understand that it is not necessary to live by isolating ourselves, but by coming closer” — something which aids peace.

He said “dialogue is the ‘oxygen of peace,’” not only in a nation but also in a family: Dialogue can help bring peace to a husband and wife who are fighting, for example.

Throughout his visit to Bahrain, Francis said, he heard several times the desire to increase encounters and strengthen the relationship between Christians and Muslims in the country.

He recalled a custom in that part of the world to place one’s hand on the heart when greeting another person. “I did this too,” he said, “to make room inside me for the person I was meeting.”

“For without this welcome, dialogue remains empty, illusory, it remains on the level of an idea rather than reality,” he said.

Francis encouraged Catholics to have “open hearts,” not closed, hard hearts, and said he would like to transmit the “genuine, simple, and beautiful joy” of the Christian priests, religious, and lay people he met in Bahrain.

“Meeting each other and praying together, we felt we were of one heart and one soul,” he said.

At the beginning of the general audience, Pope Francis drew attention to two “courageous” children who had approached the platform where he was sitting.

These children “didn’t ask permission, they didn’t say, ‘Ah, I’m afraid’ — they came directly,” he said. “They gave us an example of how we are to be with God, with the Lord: go for it.”

“He is always waiting for us,” he continued. “It did me good to see the trust of these two children: it was an example for all of us. This is how we must always approach the Lord: with freedom.”



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Pope Francis calls human fraternity the ‘challenge of our century’

February 4, 2021 CNA Daily News 3

Vatican City, Feb 4, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Human fraternity is “the challenge of our century,” Pope Francis said on Thursday, as he marked the first International Day of Human Fraternity together with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb.

“Either we are brothers, or, allow me to say, everything will fall apart,” the pope said during an online event on Feb. 4. “This is the challenge of our century. It is the challenge of our times.”

Francis spoke about the importance of human fraternity during a 40-minute online meeting organized by the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity in collaboration with the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. 

“Fraternity means to lend a helping hand. Fraternity means respect. Fraternity means listening with an open heart. Fraternity means defending our own convictions because there is no true fraternity if one’s own convictions have to be negotiated,” the pope said.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated Feb. 4 as the International Day of Human Fraternity. The date was chosen because it marks the anniversary of the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. The text was signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar on the pope’s trip to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

“This celebration responds to a clear call that Pope Francis has been making to all humanity to build a present of peace in the encounter with the other,” Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot said before the event.

Ayuso, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said, “these meetings are a way to achieve true social friendship, as the Holy Father asks of us.”

Speaking after Ahmed el-Tayeb, Pope Francis emphasized that “either we are brothers or we destroy each other. There is no time for indifference now.”

“A world without brothers is a world of enemies,” he continued. “I would like to underline this. We can’t say ‘brothers or not brothers.’ We have to say ‘brothers or enemies’ because the difference is a very subtle form of enmity.”

“We do not need to be at war to be enemies. Disregarding each other is enough…” he said.

During the event, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Latifa Ibn Ziaten, a French-Moroccan activist, were given the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.

The two were chosen for the award by an independent jury established by the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity.

Ibn Ziaten is a Muslim and the mother of Imad Ibn Ziaten, the first service member killed by Mohammed Merah during a series of Islamist terrorist attacks he committed in Toulouse and Montauban, France, in 2012.

After the death of her son, Ibn Ziaten created the Imad Ibn Ziaten Youth Association for Peace to support young people from poor areas and promote interreligious dialogue.

Pope Francis praised Ibn Ziaten’s strength and the “conviction embodied in pain, in your wounds.”

“Only a mother knows what it is to lose a child,” he said. “Through your pain, you bring yourself to say, ‘we are all brothers,’ and to sow seeds of love. Thank you for your testimony and thank you for being a mother to your son and to so many boys and girls. For being a mother of this humanity that is listening and learning from you the path of fraternity.”

The pope also addressed Guterres, thanking him for his efforts towards building peace. “We will only achieve peace with a fraternal heart. Thank you for what you are doing,” he said.

Guterres has been U.N. Secretary-General since 2017. He served as Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015. 

A Catholic, Guterres recorded a video message with Pope Francis in December 2019, in which the two leaders underlined the importance of religious freedom, human dignity, and environmental protection.