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Thousands from around Gulf pack Bahrain stadium for Pope’s Mass

Thousands of Christians from around the Gulf have packed Bahrain’s sports stadium for Pope Francis’ big Mass, as he shifted the attention of his four-day visit to ministering to the Catholic community in the Muslim region.

Pilgrims wearing identical white caps to shade them from the morning sun waved the yellow and white flags of the Holy See on Saturday as Francis moved around the Bahrain National Stadium in his popemobile before Mass. 

According to the Vatican, local organisers estimated some 30,000 people attended the service. 

Organisers had said that passes to the event were snapped up within two days of them becoming available, with pilgrims coming from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Francis is on the first-ever papal visit to the island kingdom the size of New York City that lies off the coast of Saudi Arabia. 

READ MORE: Pope hopes to promote interfaith dialogue in first visit to Bahrain

Catholic-Muslim dialogue

The primary aim was to participate in a government-sponsored interfaith conference to promote Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

But for the final two days, he is focusing on ministering to the Catholic community, a minority in the country of around 1.5 million.

Most are workers from South Asia, many of whom have left behind their families to work in Bahrain’s construction, oil extraction and domestic service industries.

After the Mass, Francis was meeting with young people at the Sacred Heart school, which dates from the 1940s and is affiliated with the church of the same name that was the first Catholic Church built in the Gulf. 

Francis wraps up his visit on Sunday, meeting with priests and nuns at the church.

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