Published: 2022-11-05 15:00
Last Updated: 2023-10-03 17:35
About 30,000 flag-waving worshippers joined an open-air mass held by Pope Francis in mainly Muslim Bahrain on Saturday, the highlight of his outreach mission to the Gulf.
Some of the congregation had tears in their eyes as they waited to see the 85-year-old at Bahrain National Stadium, the kingdom's biggest venue.
Francis, who uses a wheelchair and walking stick due to knee problems, smiled and waved to the crowds from an open-sided popemobile where he was seated, flanked by more than a dozen suited security guards and attendants.
As a 100-strong, multinational choir sang in multiple languages, the Argentine stood to kiss children lifted up to greet him in the specially adapted vehicle, which drove slowly towards a white stage backdropped by a giant gold cross.
"This very land is a living image of coexistence in diversity and indeed an image of our world, increasingly marked by the constant migration of peoples and by a pluralism of ideas, customs and traditions," he said in an address.
During the Pope's 2019 trip to the United Arab Emirates he led a mass for 170,000 people and signed a Christian-Muslim manifesto for peace.
He has spent much of his four-day Bahrain trip meeting top officials and religious figures, but for Catholics in the tiny island nation, including many migrant workers, Saturday's mass was the high point.
Everyone at the stadium received a plastic bag containing a white baseball hat, a paper Vatican flag, a bottle of water, a booklet with details of the mass and some biscuits.
Pope Francis's 39th international visit is largely aimed at building ties with Muslim officials. On Friday he met the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque, one of the leading authorities of Sunni Islam, and members of the Muslim Council of Elders.
He also attended a service at Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, the biggest in the Arabian peninsula that seats more than 2,000. Hundreds of migrant workers were among the congregation welcoming him.
Later on Saturday, Francis will meet children at the Sacred Heart School.
On Sunday, he is to attend a prayer meeting at the 83-year-old Sacred Heart Church -- the oldest in the region -- before flying back to Rome.