VATICAN CITY– Pope Francis’ visit to Bahrain Nov. 3-6 will make him the first pope to visit the archipelago nation in the Persian Gulf.
The focus of the visit will be the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence in Awali and meetings with top Muslim leaders, but it will also include an ecumenical gathering and a prayer for peace in the newly built Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral, a Mass and meetings with Catholics in the Muslim-majority nation.
Bahrain is a tiny island nation — smaller in area than London — and a key U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf.
The country’s king invited Pope Francis to visit, underlining the importance placed on interfaith dialogue and understanding among different cultures and civilizations. The king also endorsed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed in Abu Dhabi Feb. 4, 2019, by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt.
Of the country’s more than 1.5 million people, immigrants make up approximately 45% of the total population. About 74% are Muslim and 9% are Christian. People of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish faiths are among the other communities present.
Catholics in Bahrain hail mainly from the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka. South Americans, Europeans and Arabs from the Levant region account for the rest of the island’s Christian population.
Here is the detailed schedule released by the Vatican Oct. 6. Times listed are local, with Eastern Time in parenthesis.
Thursday, Nov. 3 (Rome, Awali)
— 9:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
— 4:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.) Arrival at Sakhir air base in Awali and official welcome.
— 5:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.) Courtesy visit with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa at Sakhir Palace.
— 6:10 p.m. (11:10 a.m.) Welcome ceremony in the courtyard of Sakhir Palace.
— 6:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m.) Meeting with authorities, members of the diplomatic corps and local representatives at the palace. Speech by pope.
Friday, Nov. 4 (Awali)
— 10 a.m. (3 a.m.) Closing of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence at Al-Fida’ Square at Sakhir Palace. Speech by pope.
— 4 p.m. (9 a.m.) Private meeting with Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and university, at the residence where the pope is staying on the grounds of the palace.
— 4:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.) Meeting with the members of the Muslim Council of Elders at the royal palace’s mosque. Speech by pope.
— 5:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m.) Ecumenical meeting and a prayer for peace at Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral. Speech by pope.
Saturday, Nov. 5 (Awali)
— 8:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.) Mass at Bahrain National Stadium. Homily by pope.
— 5 p.m. (10 a.m.) Meeting with young people at Sacred Heart School. Speech by pope.
Sunday, Nov. 6 (Awali, Manama, Awali, Rome)
— 9.30 a.m. (1:30 a.m.) Prayer meeting and Angelus prayer with bishops, priests, religious, seminarians and pastoral workers at Sacred Heart Church in Manama. Speech by pope.
— 12:30 p.m. (4:30 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at Sakhir air base in Awali.
— 1 p.m. (5 a.m.) Departure by plane for Rome.
— 5 p.m. (11 a.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.