Pope Francis concluded his historic tour of Bahrain on Sunday when his plane departed the gulf nation shortly after 2pm.
On his final day he met members of the vibrant Catholic community that calls it home.
It was the wish of a lifetime for many to meet the head of the Catholic church with one of the oldest parishioners describing him as a “jewel”.
At the final public event in Bahrain, Pope Francis thanked the people and government for making his first visit to the county possible.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I would now like to say thank you for these days together,” he said in an address at the Sacred Heart Church in Manama on Sunday.
“With a heart full of gratitude I bless all of you, especially those who worked to prepare for this journey.
“Since these are my last public words, I thank his majesty the king and the authorities of this country for their exquisite hospitality.”
Queuing for hours
The Pope spoke to a gathering of Catholic families that had made the tiny Gulf island their home.
They had been waiting for several hours before the Pope arrived, stretched across the aisles to touch his hands in greeting.
Generations of Christians from Iraq, India, Lebanon and Egypt have settled in Bahrain.
Florine Mathias, 76, celebrated family milestones from birthdays to anniversaries at the church and was emotional about seeing the Pope.
“It is thrilling for me to see the peacemaker,” she said.
“He is the jewel for me and I admire him as the leader of the church.
“His one smile fills me with happiness.”
The Pope also paid a private visit to an older well-preserved church with glittering chandeliers, wood-panelled walls and arched stained glass windows in the same compound.
The bells of the “Mother Church” — as the first Catholic Church in the Gulf is affectionately called — first rang on 24 December, 1939.
It was built by an Iraqi contractor who was given the responsibility of constructing the church.
Pope Francis’s four-day visit acknowledged the contributions of the community.
One of the aims of his meetings was to encourage the local community of 80,000 Catholics in Bahrain and also the surrounding region.
“We cannot keep Christian joy to ourselves. It multiplies once we start spreading it around,” the Pope told the faithful.
“In addition to the liturgy, and especially the celebration of Mass, it is important that we spread the joy of the gospel through a lively pastoral outreach, especially to young people and families, and through fostering vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.”
Stories of home
He heard from parishioners how migrant workers came to the Gulf to work and earn for their families back home.
Church volunteers spoke of how they helped migrants who required emotional support.
Nuns told the Pope how they visited prisoners, patients in hospitals and the needy who required help.
The Pope thanked the community for “showing concern for brothers and sisters in need”, praying with prisoners and the underprivileged.
“I am grateful that Sister Rose spoke of the ministry carried out for those in prison. This is something for which we should be grateful,” he said.
“Caring for prisoners is good for everyone, as a human community, since the way in which these ‘least ones’ are treated is a measure of the dignity and the hope of a society.”
He reiterated his message of harmony and peace that he stressed at every meeting since his November 3 visit began.
“Let us seek to be guardians and builders of unity,” the Pope said.
“In order to be credible when we dialogue with others, let us live in fraternity among ourselves.
“Let us do so in the multi-religious and multi-cultural societies in which we find ourselves, as tireless promoters of dialogue and weavers of fellowship with our brothers and sisters of other creeds and confessions.”
In a final message, the Pope said a prayer “for the martyrs in Ukraine”.
Pope Francis also said he “saw hope” in the peace deal reached in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government and regional forces from Tigray agreed recently to halt hostilities after nearly two years of war.
The Pope leaves for Rome on Sunday afternoon after an official farewell at the Sakhir Air Base.
He has met with Muslim religious leaders, spoke to faith leaders at the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue, celebrated a public Mass with 28,000 people and met school pupils and parishioners in a packed schedule.
Updated: November 07, 2022, 8:09 AM