Pope Francis attracts tens of thousands during first-ever papal visit to Bahrain

Thousands of Christians crowded into a sports stadium in Bahrain to listen to a mass conducted by Pope Francis during his first-ever papal visit to the island nation.

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.

The pope is primarily visiting the country to participate in a government-sponsored interfaith conference to promote Catholic-Muslim dialogue.

But for the final two days, he will minister to the Catholic community.

Unlike its neighbour Saudi Arabia, Bahrain allows Christians and Jews to exercise their faith publicly.

It houses an estimated 80,000 Christians, many of whom are workers from southern Asia.

On Friday afternoon, Francis led a service in a new cathedral near the country's capital Manama, attended by hundreds of migrant workers.

Opposition Protest

That same day, opposition protesters also took to the streets near the capital ahead of the nation’s parliamentary elections.

Activists from the outlawed Al-Wefaq party shared a video of a protest showing demonstrators waving banners calling on the public to boycott the vote.

Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni monarchy that has been accused of discriminating against the country's Shiite majority.

Francis opened his visit to Bahrain on Thursday by urging Bahrain authorities to abolish the death penalty and for the government to guarantee basic rights.

It was a nod to Bahraini Shiite dissidents who say they have been harassed and detained, subject to torture and "sham trials", with some stripped of their citizenship or sentenced to death for their political activities.

The government denies discriminating against Shiites.