Bahrain is willing to welcome 200 Christian families from Mosul
Camillo Ballin, the Apostolic Vicar for Northern Arabia said so, confirming the king’s attentiveness towards Christians. But humanitarian organisations accuse him of repressing the Shiites
“The king of Bahrain claims to be willing to help 200 Christian families from Mosul, and receive them in Bahrein. This shows his generosity towards Christians”. Combonian Camillo Ballin, the Apostolic Vicar for Northern Arabia, related the episode himself in an interview he gave a few days ago to Vatican Radio. The king he mentions is Hamad bin isa al Khalifa, who is not new to initiatives of acceptance for the Christians of the Persian Gulf. But it is the same king who has been harshly contested by international human rights organisations, that reprimand him for his severe repression of Shiite protests, who are the majority in the small country governed by a Sunni monarchy supported by Saudi Arabia. At this time, the most famous of the local dissidents, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, who was condemned to life imprisonment in 2001 and is deemed a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, has begun a hunger strike in prison.
We must also consider that the Persian Gulf has become a crucial frontier for the Church: whilst the rest of the Middle East experiences the tragedy of fleeing Christians, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have become an immigration destination for hundreds of Filipinos, Indians, Thai and other citizens of the countries within the region, attracted by the labour demand. There is hope that this temporary event might really become a workshop for the opening of new spaces of religious freedom.Bahrain, where these Christians - although they remain foreigners for all intent and purposes - are now around 10% of the population, stood out in recent years for various encouraging signals. The most meaningful was the gift of 9 thousands square metres of land to the Catholic Church, where a big church will be built to fulfill the pastoral needs of the faithful, and will be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia. Hamad bin isa al Khalifa has personally spoken to Pope Francis last 19th of May, when he was received in the Vatican.
On the background, however, looms the question of the political situation of Bahrein, that mirrors the many fractures of the whole Middle Eastern region. It also indicates the need of an overall change of direction in the Middle East, that will fully deal with the question of religious freedom and the relationship among different confessions, even within the Muslim world.
In Te, Domine, speravi, non confundar in aeternum.