As an Iraqi Catholic living in Bahrain for over 40 years, Nadhim Hanna Al-Sheikh expresses his joy at Pope Francis’ 6th Apostolic Apostolic Journey to an Arab country, and describes the positive experience he has had as a Catholic in the Muslim nation.
By Devin Watkins and Lisa Zengarini
Among the thousands of faithful attending the Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at Bahrain’s National Stadium in Riffa on Saturday morning, the third day of his Apostolic Journey to the Gulf nation, was Nadhim Hanna Al-Sheikh, a Catholic businessman from Iraq who has been living in Bahrain since 1977.
A Syriac Catholic from Iraq
He is one of the some 210,000 Christians of different denominations presently living in the al-Khalifa Kingdom, 80,000 of whom are Catholics. The vast majority are migrants residing in Bahrain for work purposes, with only about 1,000, mostly Catholics, with Bahraini nationality, though of foreign descent.
A significant number hails from neighbouring Arab countries, such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine and Jordan, but there are also many Christians from Asia, and some from Western countries. This multitude of nationalities reflect on the diversity of denominations and rites in the local Christian community, which includes Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholics, Syriacs, Copts, Syro-Malabar Catholics and Anglicans.
Mr. Hanna Al-Sheikh is a Syriac Catholic. He was born to a well-established family in Iraq who has built several important churches in his country and abroad, and his family was the main donor for the construction of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Manama, the first Catholic church to be built in the Gulf region in 1939.
He told Vatican News he is delighted at Pope Francis’ Apostolic Journey to Bahrain.
This is the second time he has attended a papal visit in four years: the first time was in February 2019, when Pope Francis visited the United Arab Emirates to sign the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together in Abu Dhabi with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb.
Being a religious minority in Bahrain
Asked about his experience as a Catholic in a minority community, Mr. Hanna Al-Sheikh said it is very positive.
He also welcomed King Hamad’s initiative of bringing together people of different faiths from across the world to discuss about the role of religion in promoting peace.
In this regard, he said he was delighted to learn about Pope Francis’ participation in the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions”, held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, in September to promote the values of coexistence and dialogue between peoples and faiths, as opposed to attempts to exploit religion for political ends.
“Whether Hindu, Buddhists, Catholics, Muslims or Jews, we all believe in God,” he said.
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