More than 28,000 people expected at papal Mass in Bahrain, including from Saudi Arabia

The imminent papal visit is generating great expectations and enthusiasm in the country, which is part of the Vicariate of Northern Arabia. Set at 8.30 am on 5 November, the papal Mass will pack the local stadium, with early arrivals at night. Some 2,000 visitors are expected from Saudi Arabia.

Manama (AsiaNews) – At least 28,000 people are expected to tightly pack Bahrain’s National Stadium for the Mass Pope Francis will celebrate at 8.30 am on 5 November, during his historic visit to the Arab country.

Organisers note that participants will come from Bahrain as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Buses will take them to the venue, in Riffa, starting at midnight.

“For the papal Mass we are expecting 28,000 people, which is the stadium capacity,” said John E. John, director of communications at the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia speaking to The National.

Most people, about 24,000, will come from Bahrain, while 2,000 will travel from Saudi Arabia: essentially migrants from the Philippines, India, other Asian countries, and Africa.

Some 500 places have been reserved for residents of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Oman, plus about 900 places for people from the rest of the world.

Islamic religious and community leaders will also attend the service.

As the papal visit approaches, enthusiasm is growing, local sources say. The visit, which takes place from 3 to 6 November, includes stops in Manama, Riffa and Muharraq.

“Our chief shepherd is coming,” said Fr Saji Thomas, parish priest at Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral.  People are eagerly waiting for November to welcome the pontiff in an atmosphere of community celebration.

The whole operation will involve more than 700 volunteers, including 300 Eucharist ministers,[*] as well as 120 priests, bishops, and cardinals.

However, most of the people who might have wanted to come will have to follow events live on the Internet. Bishop Paul Hinder, administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, is conscious of this.

“I know that many of you may be disappointed in not being able to secure an invitation to the Papal Mass,” he said.

The fact is that “we have to keep in mind that the size of the stadium is not able to fit the size of our Catholic community in Bahrain – much less the Catholic community in the vicariate,” he explained.

It is also important to “remember [that] some of the faithful of the neighbouring countries which are much bigger in size and are making huge sacrifices even to travel to the venue.”

[*] Lay people called to help in the distribution of communion during Mass.