After a courtesy visit to the King of Bahrain in the Sakhir Royal Palace, Pope Francis addresses authorities, members of civil society, and the diplomatic corps, and reflects on the “Tree of Life,” an outstanding “emblem of vitality” in the country.
By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis described Bahrain as a °place of encounter between different peoples,” a land where “ancient and modern converge; tradition and progress mix; and above all, people from different backgrounds create a distinctive mosaic of life.”
Image of the “Tree of Life”
In the first public encounter of his Apostolic Journey to Bahrain, the Pope dwelt on the image of “the Tree of Life,” an “emblem of vitality” in the country. The “majestic acacia” has survived in a “desert area with very little rainfall thanks to its deep roots.”
Bahrain’s roots, with over 4500 years of history, “shine forth in its ethnic and cultural diversity, and in the peaceful co-existence and the traditional hospitality of its people.”
This diversity bear witness to the ability and necessity of living together in the world, which has grown into a °global village” but in many ways still lacks the “spirit of a village,” which is expressed in “hospitality, concern for others, and a sense of fraternity.”
Looking at the image of the Tree of Life, the Pope invited his listeners to bring “the waters of fraternity” to “the parched deserts of human co-existence,” and to work together towards that end.
Forum for dialogue
“I am here, in this land of the Tree of Life,” he said, “as a sower of peace, in order to experience these days of encounter and to take part in a Forum of dialogue between East and West for the sake of peaceful co-existence.”
He thanked the organizers of the Conferences promoted by the Kingdom of Bahrain, which stress in particular “the themes of respect, tolerance, and religious freedom.”
These themes, he continued, enshrined in Bahrain’s constitution, are “commitments that need constantly to be put into practice, so that religious freedom will be complete and not limited to freedom of worship; that equal dignity and equal opportunities will be concretely recognized for each group and for every individual; that no forms of discrimination exist and that fundamental human rights are not violated but promoted.” He particularly highlighted the right to life, even for criminals, “whose lives should not be taken.”
Global labour crisis
Returning to the image of the Tree of Life, he highlighted the progress of Bahrain, due in large part to immigration. At the same time, he highlighted the plight of unemployment in the world, which remains too high; and deplored that too often, labour can be “dehumanizing.”
Calling attention to the “global labour crisis,” Pope Francis emphasized the value of labour,” which must be directed to the good of men and women, and not reduced simply to a means of producing wealth. He called for safe and dignified working conditions that serve to foster cultural and spiritual growth and advance social cohesion, for the common good.
Bahrain, the Pope said, “can be proud of its significant contributions in this regard,” pointing to the first school for women in the Gulf region and the abolition of slavery.
Caring for the environment, promoting life
Pope Francis then called attention to two “critical areas for everyone,” but especially world leaders and those responsible for the common good: the question of the environment, and the responsibility of all human beings to promote the flourishing of life. The Holy Father emphasized the importance of working “tirelessly” to confront the climate emergency, and expressed his hope that the COP27 meeting, taking place in just a few days, would be a “step forward in this regard.”
Peace, not war
The Pope then lamented the increase in “lethal actions and threats,” as well as the “monstrous and senseless reality of war, which everywhere sows destruction and crushes hope.” Every war, he said, “brings in its wake the death of truth.”
In particular, the Pope said his thoughts turned to the “forgotten war” in Yemen, that, “like every war, issues not in victory, but only in bitter defeat for everyone.”
Pope Francis concluded his address by quoting the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration, which highlights the role of religious faith in building a foundation of peace. “I am here today as a believer, as a Christian, as a man, and as a pilgrim of peace,” the Pope said, “because today, more than ever, we are called, everywhere, to commit ourselves seriously to peacemaking.”
From the same Declaration, the Pope made his own the commitment “to working for a world where people of sincere belief join together to reject that which divides us and concentrate instead on celebrating and expanding on that which unites us.”