10/16/2023, 20.53
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While Bahrain king and Pope Francis meet, Bishop Berardi urges the faithful to pray for peace

The vicar of Northern Arabia expresses concern for the escalating war between Israel and Hamas. An invasion of Gaza could have repercussions for the entire region. Pope Francis met today with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in the Vatican, renewing dialogue and exchange. Our Lady cathedral has become a tourist destination for Christians and Muslims.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The latest brutal war between Israel and Hamas following the attack by the extremist movement on October 7 is beginning to generate "tensions and concerns" in the Gulf region. An invasion of Gaza "could change everything,” this according to Bishop Aldo Berardi, the Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia,

A member of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives, the prelate is afraid “that other reasons will fuel protest in addition to shows of solidarity.” While governments might "condemn" the escalation, support for the Palestinians is widespread.

The authorities are taking strong security measures. In Kuwait, celebrations and concerts have been cancelled. In Saudi Arabia, the government is on silent alert, putting on hold any move along the lines of the Abraham Accords.

Any large-scale attack into the Gaza Strip could precipitate the situation.

In the Church of Arabia, people “are praying for peace,” Bishop Bernardi said, urged “to join the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem” for tomorrow’s day of prayer and fasting.

“The Anglicans should also join us in Bahrain. We have informed parishes, calling for prayer and fasting in union with the Holy Land" since the possibility that the war might escalate at the regional and global level concerns everyone.

Bahrain is a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Although it is far from Jerusalem, like the rest of the region, it is experiencing the impact of the war firsthand, while trying to renew and boost opportunities for dialogue, encounter and exchange.

One example of this is the visit by the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to the Vatican this afternoon, where he met with Pope Francis, a sign of cordial relations consolidated by the pontiff's visit to the Arabian Peninsula last year. “Today's visit is a courtesy call,” Bishop Berardi explained.

As for the war, “We got the official news, as a vicariate, very late and informed the faithful yesterday at the end of the Mass. In the past year, the pope and king have exchanged thank you letters.”

“In today's meeting, they are expected to talk about the situation in the Middle East and how to deepen interfaith dialogue and coexistence between faiths" independent of what is happening with “the United Arab Emirates".

For the bishop, tolerance and interfaith coexistence are an element of great value even in Bahrain where the monarch is committed to dialogue. In fact, the pope’s apostolic journey “was very important for the whole country, not only for Catholics.”

His presence provided a "moment of unity”, a rare occurrence for Catholics in the vicariate, who have few opportunities to gather in the region; often, only international events bring them together.

The last one, Bishop Bernardi noted, was "the World Youth Day in Lisbon when the faithful from the vicariate came together for a moment of sharing and exchange."

In Bahrain, the Church remains "part of the history of the country”. In fact, "the Sacred Heart Catholic School celebrates 75 years of activity" and is a valuable provider of education.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia covers four states in the Arabian Peninsula, each with its own social and political circumstances in terms of Christian presence and religious freedom. Unlike Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar, Saudi Arabia allows no other religion except Islam.

In 2020, Bishop Paul Hinder, the former vicar of Southern Arabia, took over as administrator of the northern vicariate after Bishop Camillo Ballin died. The area has almost 2.8 million Catholics out of a population of about 43 million.

The territory is divided into 11 parishes, with headquarters in Awali, Bahrain, where the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia is located. A reference point for Christians, it will mark its second year in operation on 10 December.

Thanks to the king who donated the land, it is becoming an architectural, historical and cultural attraction, so much so that it is "a destination for international visitors to Bahrain and for the residents, many of them Muslims.”

For this reason, the Church is planning training and pastoral outreach programmes in the field of tourism to highlight the value of the place of worship and explain, even to non-Christians, the basics of the Christian faith.

On 24 October, the vicariate will start its jubilee year, while on 4 November the Holy Door of the Cathedral will open with indulgences and pilgrimage.

This is tied to the 1500th anniversary of the martyrs of Arabia bringing together both northern and southern (United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Oman) vicariates.

"We must boost clergy training, the missionary spirit, and strengthen the catechism for the thousands of children, not to mention adult education in different languages,” the bishop explained. “This is our pastoral commitment" for the future.

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