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Thousands pack Bahrain national stadium for pope’s main Mass

Thousands pack Bahrain national stadium for pope’s main Mass


MANAMA, Bahrain — Thousands of Christians from across the Gulf filled Bahrain’s sports stadium on Saturday for Pope Francis’ High Mass, as he diverted attention from his four-day visit to ministry to the Catholic community in the Muslim majority region.

Pilgrims wearing identical white caps to shield them from the morning sun waved the yellow and white flags of the Holy See as Francis circled the Bahrain National Stadium in his popemobile before mass. A loud cheer erupted as he kissed a young girl in a candy-pink bubble-dress who was brought to the vehicle.

According to the Vatican, local organizers estimated around 30,000 people attended the service. Organizers said passes for the event were secured within two days of availability, with pilgrims arriving from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

“It’s actually a very big honour,” said Bijoy Joseph, an Indian living in Saudi Arabia who was in attendance. “It feels like a blessing for us to be part of our Holy Father’s Papal Mass in Bahrain.”

Francis is on the first-ever papal visit to the New York-sized island kingdom that sits off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The main objective was to participate in a government-sponsored interfaith conference to promote Catholic-Muslim dialogue. But for the last two days he is focusing on ministry to the Catholic community, a minority in the country of around 1.5 million.

Most are South Asian workers, many of whom have left their families behind to work in construction, oil extraction and domestic services in Bahrain.

Sebastian Fernandez, an Indian living in Bahrain, said he was blessed to be able to attend. “It will be a fruitful Mass and we are happy to see our pope,” he said.

After mass, François met young people at the École du Sacré-Coeur, which dates from the 1940s and is affiliated with the church of the same name, which was the first Catholic church built in the Gulf. Francis ends his visit on Sunday by meeting priests and nuns at the church.

Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.