10/31/2022, 10.32
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Pope Francis at Our Lady of Arabia, heart of Marian devotion

by Chiara Zappa

A 2,300 seat place of worship inaugurated last year with a statue of Our Lady to whom it is dedicated. The Pontiff will hold an ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace during his trip to the Gulf. Its construction was the fruit of the mission of Mgr Ballin, vicar apostolic who died in 2020. 



Milan (AsiaNews) - At least 2,300 seats, a chapel housing the statue of Our Lady patroness of the Arabian Peninsula and, all around, the desert.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, inaugurated a year ago just a few kilometres from Bahrain's capital Manama, will be one of the most significant stops on Pope Francis' apostolic journey to the small Persian Gulf archipelago, which kicks off on November 3.

The ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace, scheduled for the following day, will be held in the large cathedral built on land donated by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in the Awali area, where many of the migrant workers employed in the local oil refineries live.

In fact expatriates make up more than half of Bahrain's 1.5 million inhabitants. From abroad - India and the Philippines, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and almost everywhere in the Middle East - also come the vast majority of Christians, about 15% of the population, of all denominations: from Greek Orthodox to Syriacs, from Latin Catholics to Copts, from Anglicans to Syro-Malabars.

A multifaceted people bearing witness to their faith in Jesus in these lands where, despite the need to adapt to a largely Muslim context, the Church is experimenting with new ways of presence and paths of dialogue, even with the local authorities. The Awali Cathedral, the largest in the Persian Gulf, is tangible proof of this.

Devotion to Our Lady of Arabia was born on 8 December 1948, the day of the dedication of a small chapel in Kuwait to which a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms and a rosary in her hands was brought, blessed in the Vatican by Pius XII. In 1957, a decree by the same pontiff proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia patroness of the Apostolic Vicariate of Kuwait.

A devotion cultivated with passion by Msgr. Camillo Ballin, a Comboni priest from Veneto who was appointed Vicar of Kuwait in 2005 and first Vicar of the newly formed circumscription of Northern Arabia in 2011, which also includes Qatar, the Saudi kingdom and precisely Bahrain, to which his Episcopal See was moved that year.

This missionary, a profound connoisseur of the region who died prematurely in 2020, had asked the Holy See to establish a feast day for Our Lady under the title of Our Lady of Arabia. The solemnity was established in 2011, on the Saturday preceding the second Sunday of Ordinary Time, with the exceptional permission to celebrate it also on Sundays.

In Bahrain (where the first church in the Persian Gulf opened in 1939) Monsignor Ballin received citizenship and was appointed a member of the Centre for Peaceful Coexistence founded by the king. The bishop had also pursued cooperation with the authorities on the construction of a new church: it is precisely from this patient weaving of relations that the construction of the new Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia originated, which was inaugurated last December by Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the sovereign's representative, in the presence of, among others, Card. Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.

Archbishop Ballin did not make it in time to attend that historic day, but today the pope's trip to Bahrain, which the Combonian had dreamed of for years, will also represent the crowning of his long and intense missionary work. 

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See also
Vicar of Arabia: Pope in Bahrain a 'signal' to Shiite Islam
06/10/2022 11:40
Pope Francis picks Bahrain to relaunch dialogue with Islam and the East
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Doha Christians mourn the death of Bishop Ballin, Vicar of northern Arabia
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Bishop Hinder: Pope in Bahrain for the Christians of Arabia and 'discreet diplomacy' with Riyadh
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While Bahrain king and Pope Francis meet, Bishop Berardi urges the faithful to pray for peace
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