The small foreign Catholic population from the Gulf was electrified by Pope Francis Saturday Mass for thousands of Catholics in Bahrain and was encouraged to be kind to their hosts, even if they are occasionally despised.
Following one that drew more than 100,000 attendees in the United Arab Emirates in 2019, the crowd of about 30,000 people that filled Bahrain’s National Stadium was the second-largest papal Mass turnout on the Arabian Peninsula.
Mary Grace Fortes, a 36-year-old Filipino who works at a hotel’s reception in Bahrain, stated, “This is a miracle.” “So crucial for us.”
Fortes is married and sends money home to support her family, which includes her husband and 16-year-old son, like many Filipino women who work abroad.
Hundreds of Catholic overseas workers were transported by bus across the 25 km (16 mi) King Fahd Causeway, which connects Bahrain with Saudi Arabia and has no churches and prohibits open Catholic worship.
Jos Chazoor, a 53-year-old manager at a medical equipment company in Saudi Arabia who is from Kerala in India, said, “The Bahrainis arranged everything perfectly for us.”
Just before the pope entered the crowded stadium to an exuberant greeting from devotees waving yellow-and-white Vatican flags, Chazoor’s 75-year-old mother was too overtaken with emotion to react to a reporter’s questions.
Chazoor, who frequently crosses the causeway from Saudi Arabia with his mother to attend Mass in one of Bahrain’s two churches, which offer pastoral care for the roughly 160,000 Catholics in Bahrain, said, “She is too excited to talk.”
Francis seemed to applaud Bahrain’s generally welcoming non-Muslim stance in his homily.
“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.
Francis emphasized the importance of treating even the Gulf region’s natives kindly, adding that the Gospel message of loving your adversaries calls for this.
He said they should always be “persevering in good even when evil is done to us, breaking the spiral of vengeance, disarming violence, demilitarizing the heart.”
Just before the Mass began, a speaker on the altar platform yelled, “God bless the pope, God bless the royal family,” as Francis was pushed through the crowd on the stadium pitch in an open Popemobile.
During the Mass, the faithful’s prayers were read in Tagalog, Swahili, Malayalam, Tamil, and Konkani, among other languages spoken by foreign workers.
Several government ministers and one of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s sons attended the Mass.