Catholic Church: Francis is the first pope to visit Bahrain

On his multi-day trip to the Gulf state of Bahrain, Pope Francis wants to be a mediator for peace and dialogue.

Catholic Church: Francis is the first pope to visit Bahrain

On his multi-day trip to the Gulf state of Bahrain, Pope Francis wants to be a mediator for peace and dialogue. This Thursday, the 85-year-old Argentine flies from Rome to the kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula, where he is expected in the afternoon (local time). Francis will be the first head of the Catholic Church to visit the country. With this 39th trip abroad in his pontificate, he continues his approach to Islam, having previously visited Iraq (2021), the United Arab Emirates (2019) and Egypt (2017).

"It will be a journey of dialogue," said Francis before the trip. The reason for his visit is a forum at which representatives of various religions will meet from November 3rd to 4th in Al-Sahir Palace. Pope Francis will deliver the closing speech on Friday. The meeting is about the encounter between East and West for the benefit of living together. The pontiff prayed that his meetings would be an opportunity for peace.

discrimination against the Shiites

Around 1.5 million people live in Bahrain. Inspired by the demonstrations in other Arab countries, many of them took to the streets against the government in spring 2011. The protests were supported by the Shia majority, which feels discriminated against by the Sunni ruling family. Supported by Saudi security forces, the military violently ended the protests in the capital, Manama. Since then, the leadership has been cracking down on the Shiite opposition.

Human rights activists deplore the continued use of torture in the country. In several cases in which people are expected to face the death penalty, the authorities used torture to force confessions from those affected. Organizations like Human Rights Watch insist that the pope is urging the country to rethink his visit. Demands were also made that Francis should campaign for an end to discrimination against the Shiites.

The Bahraini royal family does not like open criticism. Activists fear the government could use the Pope's visit to whitewash while Shia clerics are in prison.

Focus on human rights in the region

According to the Holy See, around 80,000 Catholics live in the mini-state on the Gulf. Most are Asian guest workers. In view of current world events with the war in Ukraine, the protests in Iran and the difficult human rights situation, observers are eagerly awaiting whether the Pope will also address these issues during his visit.

Iran is practically across the sea from Bahrain. In the neighboring country of Qatar, the soccer World Cup will start in a few weeks and has been criticized for the adverse conditions faced by migrant workers.

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