In Bahrain, the pope calls for unity in the face of the logic of "opposing blocs"


Pope Francis on Friday called for unity in the face of the logic of "opposing blocks" between East and West, on the second day of an unprecedented visit to Bahrain largely devoted to interreligious dialogue.

The first pope to visit the predominantly Muslim kingdom of the Gulf, the sovereign pontiff insisted on the importance of “dialogue” and the “specific role” of religion during an interfaith summit in Awali (center).

"The powerful are concentrating in a resolute struggle for partisan interests (...) by redrawing areas of influence and opposing blocs", lamented the Argentinian Jesuit.

According to him, this logic is expressed in particular by an opposition between "the East and the West", which "look more and more like two opposite seas", an allusion to the conflict in Ukraine denounced tirelessly by Francis since the invasion of the country by Moscow at the end of February.

"We play with fire with missiles and bombs, with weapons that cause tears and death," lamented François, who has consistently denounced the use of force and the nuclear threat.

On the sidelines of this speech, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, number two of the Holy See who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in September, told the press of "a few small signs" of progress in negotiations with Moscow.

“All initiatives for peace are good, the important thing is that we carry them out together and that they are not exploited for other purposes”.

"Symbolic Significance" 

This visit by the Pope, the second to the Arabian Peninsula since his historic trip to the United Arab Emirates in 2019, comes against the backdrop of calls from NGOs who denounce the political repression and discrimination against the Shiite community of this island country of 1,4 million inhabitants, ruled by a Sunni dynasty.

In the middle of the afternoon, he will meet the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, a respected institution of Sunni Islam, who for his part called for dialogue between Shiites and Sunnis, two branches of Islam sometimes in conflict in Middle East.

“This meeting is of great symbolic importance, both locally and internationally, to promote the roots of peace and the principles of peaceful coexistence between different religions and civilizations,” Hala Ramze Fayez told AFP. , Christian deputy.

François will then speak before the "Council of Muslim Elders" at the Mosque of the Royal Palace, then during an ecumenical prayer at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, the largest Catholic church on the peninsula, inaugurated at the end of 2021.

With this visit Bahrain, which formalized its diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 2000, intends to play the tolerance card to soften its image, ensuring that the country “does not tolerate discrimination”.

But nine NGOs called on the pope to “publicly demand that Bahrain end all executions, abolish the death penalty and seriously investigate allegations of torture and violations of the right to a fair trial”.

"Right to life"

After his arrival on Thursday, the leader of the 1,3 billion Catholics called for "that fundamental human rights should not be violated, but promoted". He also insisted on the "need to always guarantee the right to life", "even towards those who are punished", an allusion to the death penalty, still in force in the kingdom.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of the NGO Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), denounced in a press release "a drastic increase in the use of the death penalty against pro-democracy demonstrators" in Bahrain, since the revolt of 2011, in the context of the Arab Spring.

On Thursday, the pope, who will be 86 next month, told reporters that he had "very sore knees", chronic pain that forces him to move around in a wheelchair.

Since his election in 2013, he has visited a dozen Muslim-majority countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Bangladesh, Morocco and Iraq.

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock/AM113

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Summary of news from March 24, 2023

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