By Courtney Mares
About 30,000 people crowded into a soccer stadium on Saturday morning to attend the first public papal Mass in the Kingdom of Bahrain, a Muslim-majority island country in the Persian Gulf.
In the crowd was Julius Rhe, who traveled with his wife and son from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where restrictions prohibit the celebration of Catholic Masses in public.
“We are very honored to be part of this very, very memorable event. . . . We are very blessed,” Rhe told EWTN on Nov. 5.
The Rhe family practices the Catholic faith at home and has attended a private Mass in an apartment while living in Saudi Arabia.
According to Bahrain’s Daily Tribune, around 2,900 of the registered attendees at the stadium Mass with Pope Francis came from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Reuters reported that foreign workers living in Saudi Arabia were bussed in for the Mass over the King Fahd Causeway that connects the two countries.
Many of the Gulf region’s foreign workers come from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and other South Asian countries.
Catholic foreign workers living in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates also traveled for the Mass.
Pope Francis arrived to cheers at Bahrain’s national soccer stadium as he greeted the enthusiastic crowd from the popemobile.
In his homily, the pope repeated the words of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Pope Francis said that Jesus “suffers when he sees in our own day and in many parts of the world, ways of exercising power that feed on oppression and violence, seeking to expand their own space by restricting that of others, imposing their own domination and restricting basic freedoms, and in this way oppressing the weak.”
In the face of the oppression and enmity that exist today, the Gospel calls Christians to “love everyone, even our enemies,” the pope said.
Christians make a small minority in Bahrain. While it is more than 70% of Bahrain’s total population of 1.5 million is Muslim, there are about 161,000 Catholics living in the country, according to 2020 Vatican statistics. The country is home to two Catholic churches and 20 Catholic priests.
Pope Francis described Bahrain as “a living image of coexistence in diversity” and “an image of our world, increasingly marked by the constant migration of peoples and by a pluralism of ideas, customs and traditions.”
He added: “It is important, then, to embrace Jesus’ challenge: ‘If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?’”
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia thanked Pope Francis for showing “pastoral care for a tiny Church in a tiny country.”
The bishop said: “Like your patron Saint Francis of Assisi, you are not afraid to build bridges with the Muslim world and to show your fraternal closeness to all people of goodwill regardless of their cultural background and religious belief.”
“We Christians in the Middle East—those of ancient Oriental tradition and those who as migrants temporarily live in this part of the world—try to implement the invitation of Saint Francis to his brothers to ‘live spiritually among the Muslims … not to engage in arguments and [simply] to acknowledge that [we] are Christians.’”
Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the Catholics who had traveled from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region to attend the Mass. He said: “I bring today the affection and closeness of the universal Church, which looks to you and embraces you, which loves you and encourages you.”
“May the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Arabia, accompany you on your journey and preserve you constantly in love towards all.”
Alexey Gotovsky contributed to this report.