Pope Francis ended his trip to Bahrain on Sunday by visiting the Gulf’s oldest Catholic church, asking bishops, priests and nuns to stay united as they minister to the faithful in the Muslim-majority region.
The final event of his four-day trip took place at the Church of the Sacred Heart, built in 1939 on land donated by the then ruler, setting Bahrain on the path to becoming one of the most accommodating for non-Muslims.
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Bahrain has two Catholic churches, including a modern cathedral which is the largest church in the Arabian Peninsula, and has around 160,000 Catholics, mostly foreign workers.
Francis, who suffers from a knee condition that required him to use a wheelchair during the trip, told local Catholic leaders to avoid factions, bickering and gossip.
“Worldly divisions, but also ethnic, cultural and ritual differences, cannot hurt or compromise the unity of the Spirit,” he told them.
There are about 60 priests working among about 2 million Catholics spread across four countries in North Arabia, said Bishop Paul Hinder, Vatican Vicar Apostolic for the region.
At the end of the religious service, Pope Francis thanked King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa for Bahrain’s “exquisite hospitality”.
The pontiff’s visit is only the second by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula.
Pope Francis’ visit continues his policy of improving ties with the Islamic world after a historic visit to the United Arab Emirates in 2019.
Thousands of Catholics from Bahrain and the Gulf flocked to a stadium to hear the pope say mass on Saturday.
Following an East-West dialogue organized by Bahrain, the sovereign pontiff focused on the role of religions in promoting peace and disarmament. In an apparent reference to the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, he said religious leaders cannot support wars.