Pope Francis spoke out against the death penalty and the need to guarantee the right to life for all during his trip to the Kingdom of Bahrain.

“I express my appreciation for the International Conferences and the possibilities for encounter that this Kingdom organizes and promotes, stressing in particular the themes of respect, tolerance, and religious freedom,” he said Thursday during his trip to the Muslim island nation in the Persian Gulf.

“These are, above all, commitments that need constantly to be put into practice so that religious freedom will be complete and not limited to freedom of worship; that equal dignity and equal opportunities will be concretely recognized for each group and for every individual; that no forms of discrimination exist and that fundamental human rights are not violated but promoted.”

These commitments begin, he said, with the right to life.

“I think in the first place of the right to life, of the need to guarantee that right always, including for those being punished, whose lives should not be taken,” he continued.

The 85-year-old pontiff made his comments during his meeting with the authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps at the Sakhir Royal Palace amid his Nov. 3–6 apostolic journey to Bahrain. He is the first pope to visit the country, which is located to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar.

His trip will culminate with his attendance at the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence,” where he will deliver the closing speech.

Pope Francis’ comments on Thursday echoed the theme of his visit: “Peace on earth to people of goodwill,” inspired by Luke 2:14.

“I am here, in this land of the Tree of Life, as a sower of peace, in order to experience these days of encounter and to take part in a forum of dialogue between East and West for the sake of peaceful human coexistence,” he said. “These days mark a precious stage in the journey of friendship that has intensified in recent years with various Islamic religious leaders, a fraternal journey that, beneath the gaze of heaven, seeks to foster peace on earth.”

More in Middle East - Africa

Bahrain has a total population of 1.5 million, according to a 2022 estimate by the CIA World Factbook. While it is more than 70% Muslim, there are about 161,000 Catholics, many of whom are migrants from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India, according to 2020 Vatican statistics. The country is home to two Catholic churches and 20 Catholic priests.

During his remarks, Pope Francis addressed a worldwide audience while expressing concern over the “massive spread of indifference and mutual distrust, the burgeoning of rivalries and conflicts that we had hoped were a thing of the past, and forms of populism, extremism, and imperialism that jeopardize the security of all.”

In light of this, he hoped to bring peace.

“May we never allow opportunities for encounter between civilizations, religions, and cultures to evaporate, or the roots of our humanity to become desiccated and lifeless!” he exclaimed.

He also called for protecting the environment and highlighted the world’s “global labor crisis,” saying “we must acknowledge that in our world unemployment levels remain all too high, and much labor is in fact dehumanizing.”

In his call for peace, he condemned war.

“War brings out the worst in man: selfishness, violence, and dishonesty. For war, every war, brings in its wake the death of truth,” he stressed. “Let us reject the logic of weapons and change course, diverting enormous military expenditures to investments in combating hunger and the lack of health care and education.”

(Story continues below)

Citing the “forgotten war” in Yemen, he begged: “Let there be an end to the clash of weapons! Let us be committed, everywhere and concretely, to building peace!”

He concluded: “I am here today as a believer, as a Christian, as a man and as a pilgrim of peace, because today, more than ever, we are called, everywhere, to commit ourselves seriously to peacemaking.”