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Student in Bahrain tells Pope Francis ‘Living as a Catholic in Muslim country is very joyful … surrounded by people of faith who share same values’

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Pope Francis watches dancers during a meeting with young people at Sacred Heart School in Awali, Bahrain, Nov. 5, 2022. (CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

AWALI, Bahrain — Everyone needs help to mature and to grow as a person of faith, Pope Francis told young people in Bahrain, so reach out to someone a bit older and wiser and don’t forget to pray.

“Before you go to the Internet for advice, always seek out good counselors in life, wise and reliable people who can guide and help you,” like parents, grandparents, teachers, the elderly and a good spiritual guide, the pope told students at Sacred Heart School in Awali Nov. 5.

“Each of us needs to be accompanied on the road of life!” he told them.

And turn to God, who is always there, waiting “for you to ask him to give you a hand,” the pope said.

The principal of the Sacred Heart School told Pope Francis that the schools’ 1,215 students from 29 different nationalities, cultures, languages and religious backgrounds were a “miniature symbol” of the peaceful co-existence and culture of care he has called for.

“Your presence here with us will surely raise awareness about our cultural diversity and shared beliefs, as well as our commitment to establish a vibrant and respectful society for present and future generations,” Sister Roselyn Thomas, a member of the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel, told the pope.

Students filled the gym and areas outside the school; some were wearing clothing traditional to their culture or religion. As the pope entered, a choir sang, “All are welcome in this place.”

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for a meeting with young people at Sacred Heart School in Awali, Bahrain, Nov. 5, 2022. (CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

In the 74 years since the sisters founded the school in Bahrain, “you have been its most treasured and most revered guest,” Sister Thomas told him.

Another honored guest was school alumnus, Lt. Abdulla Attiya. A member of the Bahrain Royal Guards, he broke a world record in December last year, running a marathon in full military gear in 3 hours, 40 minutes and 7 seconds, which also got him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

“I can be a champion on the field but what really matters is becoming a champion off the field,” he told the pope. Despite all the hard work, sacrifice, success and medals, he said, he realized the “trophies will eventually rust. It’s friendship and fraternity that will last forever.”

As a Muslim at the school, he said he had “the opportunity to celebrate Christmas, Diwali and many other heart-warming feasts … with no discrimination if one participated in the other’s happiness.”

Speaking on behalf of all young people in Bahrain, Nevin Varghese Fernandez told the pope that growing up as a Catholic in Bahrain “was risk-free and secure, as we are blessed to be living in a country that promotes and supports various religions.”

“Living as a Catholic in a predominantly Muslim country is very joyful as we are surrounded by people of faith who share the same values, and the church has given us a good foundation,” he said.

Young Catholics, he said, are grateful for the church’s support and the “heroic examples of people risking their lives for the faith.”

He told the pope his visit “gives us strength and encourages us in our Catholic identity.”

Merina Joseph Motha also told the pope of the strength her Catholic faith and community have given her.

“Believe in God and believe in yourself, and the rest will fall into place,” she said.

However, she asked for the pope’s advice “to help us combat social issues such as anxiety, stress, bullying and peer pressure.”

The pope responded, “My advice is to press forward without fear, but never go it alone!”

God “wants to help you distinguish what is essential from what is superfluous, what is good from what is harmful to you and to others, what is just from what leads to injustice and disorder,” he said.

Cultivate a life of prayer, he said, and trust that the Lord “constantly watches out for us and keeps us safe.”

The pope told young people that the church and world “need your creativity, your dreams and your courage, your charm and your smiles, your contagious joy and that touch of craziness that you can bring to every situation.”

The gathering included the young people’s prayers with six students reading appeals in their native languages. They prayed: that world leaders would be moved “so that love and peace may once again prevail in all lands”; that educators help young people “bring light where there is darkness, love where there is hatred” and work diligently for truth and justice; that those online and using social media be protected “from all dangers lurking in the world today”; that and those facing addiction or exploitation may find the way to a better life.