“Without reception, the dialogue remains empty, apparent, it remains a question of ideas and not of reality”, affirmed Pope Francis during the general audience which was devoted to the assessment of his recent apostolic trip to Bahrain on 3 to November 6, according to well-established practice in the Vatican.
On the occasion of the general audience of this Wednesday, November 9, 2022, Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis expressed his “gratitude” for the “warm welcome” which was reserved for him during his trip to Bahrain, for the “support of prayer” and for the “organizers of the trips” who have done “an enormous job”. He relied on the 3 words: dialogue, meeting and walking, in order to explain why he had chosen to go to “this small country with a very strong Muslim majority”.
There can be no dialogue without a real “encounter”, the pope said. This requires that, throughout the world, religious and civil leaders “know how to look beyond their own borders” to “take care of the whole”, urged the pontiff, citing as an example the “Bahrain Forum for dialogue” and the other meetings in which he took part. It is “the only way to address certain universal problems” such as “forgetting God”, “the tragedy of hunger”, “the care of creation” and “peace”, he specified. .
After the dialogue and the meeting, the pontiff evoked the “walk” by recalling that this trip was only a “stage” of a “journey” initiated by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Morocco. It is a question of “building fraternal alliances” between Christian and Muslim believers, “in the name of our Father Abraham”, he underlined. Then Francis spoke of the ecumenical meeting of prayer for peace “with my dear patriarch and brother Bartholomew” and with many migrant workers and faithful from other Gulf countries.
Here is the translation of the words of Pope Francis:
Dear brothers and sisters, welcome and good morning!
Before talking about what I prepared, I would like to draw attention to these two children who came here. They didn’t ask permission, they didn’t say, “Ah, I’m scared”: they came directly. This is how we should be with God: directly. They gave us an example of how we must be with God, with the Lord: go forward! He is still waiting for us. It did me good to see the confidence of these two children: they are an example for all of us. This is how we must always approach the Lord: with freedom. Thanks.
Three days ago, I returned from my trip to the Kingdom of Bahrain, which I really did not know: I did not really know what this kingdom was like. I would like to thank all those who accompanied this visit with the support of prayer, and renew my gratitude to His Majesty the King, to the other Authorities, to the local Church and to the population for their warm welcome. And also, I want to thank the organizers of the trips: to make this trip, there are a lot of people who travel, the Secretariat of State works so much to prepare the speeches, to prepare the logistics, everything, a lot of people are mobilized … then, the translators… and then, the Corps of the Gendarmerie, the Corps of the Swiss Guard, who are very brave. It’s a huge job! Everyone, everyone, I would like to publicly thank you for everything you do to ensure that the Pope’s trip goes well. Thanks.
The question arises spontaneously: why did the pope want to visit this small country with a very strong Muslim majority? There are many Christian countries: why not go to one or the other first? I would like to respond with three words: dialogue, encounter and walk.
Dialogue: The opportunity for this long-desired trip was offered by the King’s invitation to a Forum on dialogue between East and West. A dialogue that serves to discover the richness of those who belong to other peoples, other traditions, other beliefs. Bahrain, an archipelago made up of many islands, has made us understand that we should not live in isolation, but by getting closer. In Bahrain, which are islands, they got closer, they brushed against each other. The cause of peace demands it, and dialogue is “the oxygen of peace”. Don’t forget this: dialogue is the oxygen of peace. Even in domestic peace. If a war has been waged there, between husband and wife, then with dialogue we continue with peace. In the family, it is also necessary to dialogue: to dialogue, because with dialogue we can maintain peace. Nearly sixty years ago, the Second Vatican Council, speaking of the construction of the edifice of peace, affirmed that “this work demands that [les hommes] open their minds and their hearts beyond the borders of their own country, that they renounce national selfishness and the desire to dominate other nations, and that they harbor a deep respect for all humanity, which is advancing with so much difficulty towards greater unity. (Gaudium et Spes, 82). In Bahrain, I felt this need and I wished that, throughout the world, religious and civil leaders would know how to look beyond their own borders, their own communities, to take care of the whole. This is the only way to approach certain universal problems, such as forgetting God, the tragedy of hunger, the care of creation, peace. Together, we think that. In this sense, the Dialogue Forum, entitled “East and West for human coexistence”, urged to choose the path of encounter and to reject that of confrontation. How much we need! How much do we need to meet! I am thinking of the mad – mad war! – of which the martyred Ukraine is a victim, and to so many other conflicts, which will never be resolved by the childish logic of arms, but only by the gentle force of dialogue. But beyond Ukraine, which is martyred, let’s think of the wars that have lasted for years, let’s think of Syria – more than 10 years! – Think for example of Syria, think of the children of Yemen, think of Myanmar: everywhere! Now closer is Ukraine, what are the wars doing? They destroy, they destroy humanity, they destroy everything. Conflicts should not be resolved by war.
But there can be no dialogue without – second word – encounter. In Bahrain, we met, and several times I heard the wish that between Christians and Muslims, there would be more encounters, that there would be stronger relations, that each would take the other more to heart . In Bahrain – as is the custom in the East – people raise their hands to their hearts when greeting someone. I did it too, to make room in myself for those I met. Because, without reception, the dialogue remains empty, apparent, it remains a question of ideas and not of reality. Among the many encounters, I think back to the one with my dear brother, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar – dear brother! and to the one with the young people of the School of the Sacred Heart, students who gave us a great lesson: they study together, Christians and Muslims. As young people, as children, we must get to know each other, so that the fraternal encounter prevents ideological divisions. And here, I want to thank the School of the Sacred Heart, to thank Sister Rosalyn who directed this school so well, and the children who participated with speeches, prayers, dances, songs: I remember it well ! Thanks a lot. But the elders also offered a testimony of fraternal wisdom: I think back to the meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders, an international organization founded a few years ago, which promotes good relations between Islamic communities, on the basis of respect, moderation and peace, opposing fundamentalism and violence.
So we come to the third word: walk. The trip to Bahrain should not be considered as an isolated episode, it is part of a journey, inaugurated by Saint John Paul II when he visited Morocco. Thus, the first visit of a Pope to Bahrain represented a new stage in the walk between Christian and Muslim believers: not to confuse or water down the faith, no, dialogue does not water down; but to build fraternal alliances in the name of Father Abraham, who was a pilgrim on earth under the merciful gaze of the only God of Heaven, God of peace. This is why the motto of the trip was: “Peace on earth to men of good will”. And why do I say that the dialogue does not water down? Because to dialogue, you have to have your own identity, you have to start from your own identity. If you don’t have an identity, you can’t dialogue, because you don’t even understand what you are. For dialogue to be good, one must always start from one’s own identity, be aware of one’s own identity, and that is how one can dialogue.
Dialogue, meeting and march in Bahrain also took place between Christians: for example, the first meeting, in fact, was ecumenical, of prayer for peace, with the dear Patriarch and Brother Bartholomew and with brothers and sisters of various confessions and rituals. It took place in the Cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia, whose structure evokes a tent, the one in which, according to the Bible, God met Moses in the desert, throughout the walk. The brothers and sisters in faith whom I met in Bahrain truly live “on the move”: they are mostly migrant workers who, far from home, find their roots in the people of God and their families in the great family of the Church. It is wonderful to see these migrants, Filipinos, Indians and others, Christians, coming together and supporting each other in faith. And they advance with joy, in the certainty that God’s hope does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5,5). By meeting the pastors, the consecrated, the pastoral agents and, during the festive and moving Mass celebrated in the stadium, so many faithful, who also came from other Gulf countries, I brought them the affection of the whole Church . The journey consisted of this.
And today I would like to convey to you their authentic, simple and beautiful joy. As we met and prayed together, we felt that we were one heart and one soul. Thinking of their walk, of their daily experience of dialogue, let us all feel called to expand our horizons: please, open hearts, not closed, hard hearts. Open hearts, because we are all brothers and for this human brotherhood to go further. Broaden our horizons, open up, widen fields of interest and dedicate ourselves to knowing others. If you dedicate yourself to knowing others, you will never be threatened. But if you are afraid of others, you yourself will be a threat to them. Because the path of fraternity and peace needs everyone to continue. I give my hand, but if there isn’t another hand on the other side, it’s useless. May the Virgin help us in this process! Thanks !
© Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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