November 16 is observed as the International Day for Tolerance by the United Nations. And Bahrain, we know, is a UN member state.
So, as I listened to Bishop Camillo Ballin on November 23– during the start of the Sacred Heart Church’s 75 Anniversary celebrations at the Diplomat Radisson Blu Hotel- I thought it significant to echo his thoughts, and give my views on this country’s progress towards tolerance.
The Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia, Bishop Camillo Ballin said, in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio for the Gulf Countries Archbishop Petar Antun Rajic , that this noble nation Bahrain has remained outstanding for its freedom of worship.
“The rulers of our country are always positive when it comes to Faith and its free expressions. The Christian community which existed here in this part of the Gulf for 75 years or more will acknowledge, unanimously, this truth. And even now the Catholic community is conscious of it and is proud to proclaim it”, he stated.
I silently applauded this country in my heart, for its openness and tolerance towards others’ beliefs, when he said two things.
Firstly when he accepted that “the most tangible gesture of benevolence from the part of the rulers of this country, especially in the recent act of donating a piece of land in Awali to the Catholic community for a church, can never be overemphasised or adequately acknowledged”.
And secondly when he said that “by providing the Bishop, who was in charge of the Catholic believers here in Bahrain, with a National Passport, His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa publicly acknowledges the freedom of worship in this country.
Listening to the Bishop, I went back ten years to the occasion of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the earliest protestant church in Bahrain, the National Evangelical Church (NEC), whose celebrations I had also had the privilege of attending.
The work of Rev. Samuel Zwemer, an American missionary who served in Bahrain during 1891 to 1905, saw the establishment of not only this NEC , but also the American Mission Hospital and the American Mission School, which is now called the Al Raja School.
Interestingly, the Bahrain Mar Thoma Parish is also in the concluding part of its 50th anniversary celebrations now. And the Chief Guest at the celebration last week was the Most Rev. Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan. The 96-year- old spiritual leader has been a Bishop for 60 years, and is the longest serving Bishop in India.
And recently, even the Indian Orthodox Cathedral celebrated the Golden Jubilee of its presence in Bahrain.
So, we can see that for over 100 years, the Christian community here – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, has been enjoying a freedom that is very rare in the Gulf region.
One can also just look at the many temples of Hindus, Gurudwaras of Sikhs, and churches of Christians, besides the mosques of Muslims, to praise this nation, for religious tolerance that is exemplary.
There was even a Synagogue for Jews in Manama, though it is no longer being used.
So, the openness, tolerance and the freedom that this nation gives to its citizens and residents makes it one of the world’s best places to live in.
No wonder, in October 2013, the HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey, of more than 7,000 expats, found that Bahrain is the second most sought-after country by expats to work-in.