Bishop Hinder: Pope in Bahrain for the Christians of Arabia and 'discreet diplomacy' with Riyadh
The mass celebrated at the stadium "the most moving moment". The visible "enthusiasm" of tens of thousands of faithful. The 'dedication' of the local community in preparing for the visit. The pontiff's physical suffering, his "fragility" touched the hearts of Muslims too.
Manama (AsiaNews) - The "most moving" moment of Pope Francis' trip to Bahrain, which ended yesterday, was "the Mass celebrated at the stadium", where "the enthusiasm" of the faithful from all over the Gulf region "gathered in prayer in celebration of the mystery" was visible, says Msgr. Paul Hinder, apostolic administrator of northern Arabia (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain).
Msgr. Hinder, who had already welcomed the Pope to the United Arab Emirates in 2019, was in close contact with the Pontiff during the visit from November 3 to 6 and shared his refelctions on the many significant events with AsiaNews.
Even "on a personal level", he explains it was a "historic" event that is still vivid in his memory: "This second presence meant a great involvement on a personal level, well beyond expectations".
The Swiss-born bishop has been in the region for a long time, first as vicar of southern Arabia (Eau, Yemen, Oman) and now as apostolic administrator of the north. His initial assessment is of a "visit that went very well: well organised on both sides, by the government in Manama and by the Vatican".
He says he is "in awe" of the dedication shown "by these people who consecrated day and night to prepare even the smallest detail" and emphasises "the pope's speeches", which he describes as "courageous in addressing basic problems" such as human rights and religious freedom, as well as strong stances against war and in favour of work in a migrant reality.
Professing the faith is always a challenge for the region's Christians, given the "special situation" they live in and the fact that "they are not large in number," notes Mgr Hinder. At the same time they "have a task to pursue" as the Pontiff himself reminded us, because "they are called to live the Gospel in their reality in a simple and humble, but also credible way" in a perspective of "peace".
"With regards rights, religious freedom and the references to peace," he added, "those who listened and were called to understand have grasped the message".
This trip followed the historic first visit of a pontiff to a Gulf nation, when Pope Francis went to the Emirates in 2019. It is "certainly part of the same logic and continuity, although it is an ongoing process" of "rapprochement in mutual respect and understanding", especially "at an active level, as proposed by the pope".
"Even though they [Christianity and Islam] are different in religion and doctrine, the goal is "to arrive at common points" to strengthen "synergy", a process that "cannot happen overnight, but the pope's insistence is an element of strength and confidence" even if there will be no immediate results and not all expectations will be 100% fulfilled.
No document was signed in Bahrain, because the text signed in Abu Dhabi in 2019, which is also the heart of the encyclical Fratelli tutti, is still valid. What remains, adds Mgr Hinder, is "continuity in the teaching and practice" of Islamic-Christian relations.
A "strong encouragement" to continue the mission emerged in the meeting with priests, nuns and lay people involved in pastoral work. The prelate confided that he spoke "in an unplanned and personal moment" with the pontiff about the situation of Christians in Saudi Arabia, some of whom had followed the apostolic journey live.
"There is a bridge that is not only physical" between the two countries that favours connections and exchanges also for the Christian community, while a "discreet diplomacy" is underway that "we understand to be the most effective" in order to bear fruit in the future.
"For the faithful," Msgr Hinder concludes, "the pope's presence has been a source of great joy and pride. Three times in two years, considering the Covid-19 pandemic and the health of the pontiff, help us realise that we are not forgotten and this is an element of great comfort. Moreover, Francis has touched the hearts not only of Christians, but of Muslims themselves with his fragility, in physical difficulty, but with the strength to make these journeys and meet us with humility".