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Why Pope Francis wants to visit this Islamic monarchy

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Title: Why Pope Francis wants to visit this Islamic monarchy

Originally reported on by Andrea Gagliarducci

Classification: IPTC: 01026002 • IAB-QAG: IAB12-1

The pope’s trip to Bahrain was his dream, and he had repeatedly invited the king to send an invitation. Behind Bahrain’s approach to the Holy See is his constant work, just as his legacy is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia.

Our Lady of Arabia cathedral

The title of Our Lady of Arabia was approved in 1948 to fulfill the prophecy of the Magnificat “From this day all generations will call me blessed.”

Devotion to Our Lady of Arabia was therefore born on Dec. 8, 1948, the day on which the small chapel of Ahmadi in Kuwait was dedicated to this title.

In the chapel was a statue that had been blessed in the Vatican by Pius XII himself, who in 1954 proclaimed Mary “queen.”

Also, in 1949, Ahmadi’s Church of Our Lady of Arabia was affiliated with the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Finally, in 1957, Pius XII, with a decree, proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia the principal patroness of the territory and the apostolic vicariate of Kuwait.

It was in 2007 that Ballin asked the Holy See to have a public holiday for the Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Arabia.

On Jan. 5, 2011, the Holy See officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia patroness of the Vicariate of Kuwait and Arabia.

The statue of Our Lady of Arabia is a focal point of Bahrain’s new cathedral.

Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, then prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, went personally to Kuwait for the occasion.

The solemnity in honor of Our Lady of Arabia was established on the Saturday preceding the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, with the permission to celebrate it on Sunday.

In May 2011, the Holy See reorganized the Vicariate of Kuwait, giving it the new name of “Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia” and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Ballin’s episcopal see passed from Kuwait to Bahrain for logistical, practical reasons.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is one of the few nations in the region with a local Christian population that has grown since 1930. Most Christians are migrants from Asia, particularly from the Philippines.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia stands on 9,000 square meters of land in Awali, granted by King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa. 

The decision to build the church was made on the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb. 11, 2013.

Ballin strongly desired the dedication to Our Lady of Arabia.

Speaking with CNA’s Italian partner agency ACI Stampa in 2018, Ballin recalled that “there is a Mass, already approved by the Holy See, dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia.”

He said the feast is celebrated on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, the first Sunday after the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. 

“For this feast, the Holy See has made an exception for my vicariate, and the feast can take place on a Sunday, a day customarily dedicated only to God. My vicariate, however, has obtained to celebrate Our Lady on a Sunday.“

Speaking on the question of dialogue with Islam, he stressed that it was essential to do so “with great discretion and patience.”

“Muslims do not even know the structure of the Church, and it is important to explain it to make them understand. It is essential to create a climate of friendship. Then, dialogue takes place without requiring precise goals and precise times.“

And he added: “The West believes that there are only Muslims in the Gulf, and instead, there are millions of Catholics. In addition, the Middle East and the Gulf’s situations are confusing and cannot be conflated. In the Middle East, Christians are citizens of the country and have a passport. In the Gulf, no: Christians are all emigrants, and everyone must leave when retirement age arrives or when a project they participate in is canceled.“

Now, his legacy could be celebrated by Pope Francis. But, in the meantime, the cathedral he wanted has been built and inaugurated and is a candidate to become a reference point for evangelization in the region.

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