How prisoners are treated reflects level of dignity, hope of society, pope says

MANAMA, Bahrain (CNS) — Seek to be guardians and builders of unity, reaching out to dialogue with others and living as brothers and sisters, Pope Francis told the Catholic faithful and their bishops and priests from throughout the Persian Gulf.

And, he said, be prophetic, attentive “interpreters of reality, capable of perceiving God’s presence amid the frequently obscure course of history and making it known to the people.”

“The words of the prophets are often scathing: they call by name the evil designs lurking in the hearts of the people; they call into question false human and religious certainties, and they invite everyone to conversion,” the pope said Nov. 6, his final day in Bahrain.

The pope thanked Sister Rose Celine, a member of the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel, for her testimony about her congregation’s work in girls’ education, faith formation and prison ministry.

People should be grateful for the works of mercy carried out for those in prison, the pope said, bringing them consolation, “sharing time with them, breaking open the word of God and praying with them.”

“Caring for prisoners is good for everyone, as a human community, since the way in which these ‘least ones’ are treated is a measure of the dignity and the hope of a society,” he told the small crowd, which included Bahrain’s minister of justice.

As he did throughout his visit, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of the unity of Bahrain’s diverse Catholic community, made up mostly of foreign workers.

“I know that you are already offering a good example of walking this path, but fraternity and communion are gifts that we must never tire of imploring from the Spirit,” he said. “In this way, we can fend off the enemy who always sows weeds.”

For the last stop of his four-day journey, Pope Francis chose to visit Sacred Heart Church, which was consecrated in 1939 and was the first church built in a Gulf nation. The bishops, priests, religious men and women, seminarians, catechists, volunteers and other lay faithful gathered there were representing about 60 priests and 2 million Catholics spread across four countries: Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Also present were Catholics representing Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries.

In Bahrain, like other Muslim-majority countries, the weekend is Friday and Saturday; Sunday is the start of the work week, so Pope Francis celebrated his main public Mass Nov. 5 and led a prayer service and the recitation of the Angelus with a smaller group in the Manama church the following day.

In his homily, the pope said it is the Holy Spirit “who refreshes our deserts and restores life to what is parched, who washes away all that soils us and quenches our thirst for happiness.”

Everything flows from the spirit, he said, and Christians must always pray for the Spirit’s gifts, such as joy, unity and prophecy, so that they may receive these gifts and reflect them in their lives.

To be prophetic is to receive the light of the Holy Spirit to become attentive and capable interpreters of reality, making God’s presence known to the people, the pope said.

“Prophecy makes us capable of putting the beatitudes into practice in everyday situations, building meekly, yet resolutely God’s kingdom, in which love, justice and peace are opposed to every form of selfishness, violence and degradation,” he said.

Bishop Paul Hinder, administrator of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, told the pope about the joyful yet also difficult life of a “migrant church.” Coming from many different countries and ethnicities, “many are struggling daily, but they do so with deep faith,” trusting in the Lord.

The 1,300 catechists throughout the region all work as volunteers, “sometimes under very difficult conditions because of the restrictions in some countries regarding religious freedom, work permits and residency permits,” Bishop Hinder said.

However, they are also deeply aware of God’s presence with them and are “grateful for several positive experiences and encounters in unexpected places,” he said.

Pope Francis said the Holy Spirit offers Christians the joy of being with God, “knowing that despite the struggles and dark nights that we sometimes endure, we are not alone, lost or defeated, because he is with us.”

The Holy Spirit is a wellspring of unity, making everyone a child of God and brothers and sisters to one another, he said. “There can no longer be room for the works of the flesh, acts of selfishness, such as factions, quarrels, slander and gossip,” or ethnic, cultural and ritual differences.

The Holy Spirit breaks down the barriers of distrust and hate, he said, and “frees us from fear and instills the courage to go out and meet others with the unarmed and disarming force of mercy.”

“Let us seek to be guardians and builders of unity,” Pope Francis said. “In order to be credible when we dialogue with others, let us live in fraternity among ourselves.”

Original Article