By Katie Yoder
Pope Francis on Friday called for the restoration of Christian unity with the Holy Spirit’s guidance during his trip to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
“Sadly, by our divisions, we have wounded the Lord’s holy body; yet the Holy Spirit, who joins all the members together, is greater than our divisions according to the flesh,” the pontiff said during his trip to the Muslim island nation in the Persian Gulf.
“Consequently, it is right to say that what unites us far exceeds what divides us and that, the more we journey according to the Spirit, the more we will be led to desire and, with the help of God, restore full unity among us.”
The 85-year-old pontiff made his comments while reflecting on Pentecost during an ecumenical meeting and prayer for peace at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia amid his Nov. 3–6 apostolic journey to Bahrain. In attendance was the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, along with several Christian leaders from the region.
The Holy Spirit “does not imprison us in uniformity but disposes us to accept one another in our differences,” he said. “That happens when people live by the Spirit. They learn to encounter each of their brothers and sisters in faith as a part of the body to which they themselves belong.”
“That is the spirit of the ecumenical journey,” he added.
Throughout his trip, Pope Francis has touched on the theme of his visit: “Peace on earth to people of goodwill,” inspired by Luke 2:14. His remarks Friday came after he met with Muslim leaders that day with a message that Catholics and Muslims alike are called to promote peace.
He is the first pope to visit the country, which is located to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar. Bahrain has a total population of 1.5 million, according to a 2022 estimate by the CIA World Factbook. While it is more than 70% Muslim, there are about 161,000 Catholics, many of whom are migrants from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India, according to 2020 Vatican statistics. The country is home to two Catholic churches and 20 Catholic priests.
At the cathedral, Pope Francis reflected on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples of Christ. The pontiff arrived there in a wheelchair and received baskets of flowers from young children before praying in front of the statue of Our Lady of Arabia.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, an ark-shaped structure seating 2,300 people, was consecrated in 2021 and built on land gifted by Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the king of Bahrain.
Noting that two things about Pentecost appeared helpful for “our journey of communion,” the pope first spoke about “unity in diversity.”
While Christ’s first disciples could separately worship God and do good, the Holy Spirit descended upon them when they gathered together. Today, he asked, “What is the ‘gathering place,’ the ‘spiritual Upper Room’ of our communion?”
“It is the praise of God, which the Spirit stirs up in everyone,” he answered, calling prayer of praise and adoration “the highest form of prayer.”
Prayer of praise, he added, unites not only the faithful on earth but also earth to heaven.
“For not only here on earth, but also in heaven, there is a song of praise that brings us together, sung by the many Christian martyrs of various denominations,” he said. “We have the same goal: all of us are called to the fullness of communion in God.”
Still drawing from Pentecost, Pope Francis preached on a second topic: “the witness of life.” He highlighted how, after Pentecost, the disciples went forth to “radiate everywhere the beauty of God’s love” with their lives.
He pointed to the importance of loving everyone.
“This is the badge of Christians, the essence of our witness,” he urged.
He concluded by calling unity and witness “essential.”
“The Spirit unites us and sends us; he gathers us in communion and sends us on mission,” the pontiff continued. “Let us entrust to him in prayer our shared journey, and beg the outpouring of his grace upon us, in a new Pentecost that will open new horizons and quicken the pace of our journey of unity and peace.”
“On that day of Pentecost, the Spirit created a great diversity,” he said. “And that as the unity that we share comes from the Spirit, for the Spirit is harmony.”