16 September 2019
Pope Francis greets bishops from Eastern Catholic churches during a meeting at the Vatican on 14 September 2019. Meeting some 40 bishops serving in Europe, the pope praised them for their fidelity to Rome and encouraged them to be more active in seeking Christian unity.
(photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
Praising the fidelity of Eastern Catholics, Pope Francis also urged them to be more active in the search for Christian unity, especially unity with their Orthodox counterparts.
In heaven, he said, “the Lord will not seek an account of which or how many territories remained under our jurisdiction. He will not ask how we contributed to the development of our national identities. Instead, he will ask how much we loved our neighbor, every neighbor, and how well we were able to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to those we met along the road of life.”
The pope met 14 September with about 40 bishops in Europe from Eastern Catholic churches; they included bishops from the Eastern-rite Ukrainian, Romanian, Greek and Slovak churches, but also those who minister to migrant communities from outside of Europe, including the Coptic, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic
Churches from the Middle East and the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches of India.
The multiple expressions of Catholic liturgy, spirituality and governance are a sign of the Catholic Church’s true unity, Pope Francis said. “Uniformity is the destruction of unity; Christian truth is not monotonous, but ‘symphonic,’ otherwise it would not come from the Holy Spirit.”
Preserving their Eastern identity while holding fast to their unity with Rome came at the price of martyrdom for many of the Eastern Catholic churches, the pope acknowledged. “This fidelity is a precious gem in your treasury of faith, a distinctive and indelible sign.”
Unity with the wider Catholic Church, he said, does not detract from the identity of the Eastern churches but “contributes to its full realization, for example, by protecting it from the temptation of closing in on itself and falling into national or ethnic particularisms that exclude others.”
While the Eastern churches have national roots and cultures, and in many cases have contributed to preserving local languages and identity, the churches are called to proclaim the Gospel, not a national identity, he said.
“This is a danger of the present time in our civilization,” the pope said, because one can see “particularisms that become populisms and seek to dictate and make everything uniform.”
At the same time, he said, the witness of the saints and martyrs of the Eastern Catholic churches calls Eastern Catholics today to purify their “ecclesial memory” -- for example, the memory of knowing the Orthodox did not experience the same level of persecution under communism -- “and to aspire to ever greater unity with all who believe in Christ.”
In a world where so many people sow division, he said, Catholics are “called to be artisans of dialogue, promoters of reconciliation and patient builders of a civilization of encounter that can preserve our times from the incivility of conflict.”
“The way shown to us from on high is made up of prayer, humility and love, not of regional or even traditionalist claims; no. The way is prayer, humility and love,” the pope said.
As churches that share a spirituality, liturgy and theology with the Orthodox churches, he said, the Eastern Catholic churches have a special role to play in promoting Christian unity.
Pope Francis encouraged shared academic programs, especially for priests “so that they can be trained to have an open mind.”
But it is especially in concrete service to others that Catholics and Orthodox should join together, he said. “Love knows no canonical or jurisdictional boundaries. It pains me to see, even among Catholics, squabbles about jurisdictions.”
12 September 2019
Tags: Eastern Catholic Churches
Pope Francis is flanked by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, on 12 September 2019, during an audience with bishops who were ordained over the past year and were attending a course sponsored by the two congregations. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
New bishops need to prepare for a life filled with God’s surprises, with daily plans that change at the last minute and, especially, for a life dedicated to spending time with God and with the people, Pope Francis said.
“God surprises us and often likes to mess up our appointment books: prepare for this without fear,” the pope told about 130 bishops attending a course for bishops ordained in the past year.
Bishops exist to make tangible God’s love for and closeness to his people, the pope told them on 12 September. “But one cannot communicate the closeness of God without experiencing it every day and without letting himself be infected by his tenderness.”
Pope Francis told the new bishops that no matter what else is going on in their lives and ministries, they must spend time in prayer.
“Without this intimacy cultivated daily in prayer, even and especially in times of desolation and dryness, the nucleus of our episcopal ministry splits apart,” he said.
Without a strong relationship to God, the sower of every good seed, a bishop’s own efforts will not seem worth the effort, he said, and it will be difficult to find the patience necessary to wait for the seeds to sprout.
Closeness to God also leads directly to desire for closeness to God’s people, the pope said. “Our identity consists in being near. It is not an external obligation, but a requirement that is part of the logic of gift.”
“Jesus loves to approach his brothers and sisters through us, through our open hands that caress and console them, through our words pronounced to anoint the world with the Gospel and not ourselves,” Pope Francis said.
A bishop cannot simply “proclaim” his closeness to the people, the pope said. He must be like the good Samaritan: seeing people in need rather than looking the other way, stopping to help, bandaging wounds, taking responsibility for them and paying the cost of caring for them.
“Each of these requires putting yourself on the line and getting your hands dirty,” Pope Francis told the bishops.
“Being close to the people,” he said, “is trusting that the grace God faithfully pours out on us and of which we are channels, even through the crosses we bear, is greater than the mud we fear.”
And, he said, a simple lifestyle is part of a bishop’s mission because it is the first and clearest way to proclaim with integrity that “Jesus is enough for us and that the treasure we want to surround ourselves with is made up of those who, in their poverty, remind us of and represent him.”
Bishops must spend more time visiting parishes and other communities than they spend at their desks, and those visits should not be super-formal affairs, he said.
“What comes to mind are pastors who are so groomed that they seem like distilled water that has no taste,” he said. They must truly listen to people, rather than surrounding themselves with “lackeys and yes men,” he added.
3 September 2019
Tags: Pope Francis
Pope Francis greets Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, at the Vatican 2 September 2019. The 47 bishops from Ukrainian dioceses in Ukraine and 10 other nations met the pope during their synod in Rome. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
Before a synod, bishops must learn what their people want and think and need, not so they can change church teaching, but so they can preach the Gospel more effectively, Pope Francis told the bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Forty-seven bishops from Ukrainian dioceses in Ukraine and 10 other nations, including the United States, Canada and Australia, met the pope on 2 September during their synod in Rome.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, told Pope Francis that “every bishop and representative of our local communities has made his journey to Rome carrying with him the sufferings and hopes of the people of God entrusted to our pastoral care.”
The bishops, he said, want to be synodal -- walking together with their people -- “not only during our sessions but also when we return to our communities. Because, in fact, one cannot walk while seated!”
Speaking to the bishops, Pope Francis focused on Archbishop Shevchuk’s remarks and on how the Eastern Catholic churches, like the Orthodox churches, have a longer and uninterrupted history of decisions flowing from bishops’ synods.
“There is a danger,” the pope said, which is “thinking today that making a synodal journey or having an attitude of ‘synodality’ means investigating opinions -- what does this one and that one think -- and then having a meeting to make an agreement. No! The synod is not a parliament!”
While synod members must discuss matters and offer their opinions, he said, the purpose is not “to come to an agreement like in politics: ‘I’ll give you this, you give me that.’“
Bishops must know what their lay faithful, priests and religious think, the pope said, but it’s not a survey or a vote on what should change.
“If the Holy Spirit is not present, there is no synod,” he said. “If the Holy Spirit is not present, there is no synodality. In fact, there is no church.”
The vocation of the church is to evangelize, he said, and the Holy Spirit should help bishops gathered in a synod to do that better.
“Pray to the Holy Spirit,” the pope told the bishops. “Argue among yourselves” like early church leaders did at Ephesus but listen to the Holy Spirit.
“We don’t want to become a congregationalist church, but a synodal church,” he said. “Keep moving forward on this path.”
30 August 2019
Tags: Ukraine Ukrainian Catholic Church
In this image from 2012, Cardinal George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, India, is pictured at the Vatican. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In a step designed to quell ongoing controversies, the Vatican announced the appointment of a vicar for the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and Pope Francis conferred on him the personal title of archbishop.
Archbishop Antony Kariyil had led the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Mandya, India, and served as secretary of the synod of bishops of the Eastern-rite church before his appointment as vicar was announced by the Vatican on 30 August.
The website Matters India reported that the synod, in agreement with the Vatican, created the post of vicar to the major archbishop to help deal with ongoing controversies involving Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, major archbishop of the church.
The vicar was to have broad administrative powers and complete control over the financial affairs of the archdiocese, but the cardinal would retain the title of major archbishop and must be consulted on important decisions, the website said.
Matters India also reported that the synod lifted the suspension of the archdiocese’s two auxiliary bishops and transferred them to other dioceses: Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath will succeed Archbishop Kariyil in Mandya and Bishop Jose Puthenveettil will become auxiliary bishop of Faridabad. Both appointments were announced by the Vatican on 30 August.
In June 2018, Pope Francis had named an apostolic administrator to run the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly in an effort to put an end to infighting and financial controversies aggravated by disputed land deals approved by the cardinal.
14 June 2019
Tags: Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Claudio Di Segni, a tenor and director of the choir at Rome's main synagogue, performs with the choir on 13 June 2019, during a concert at the synagogue marking the 25th anniversary of formal diplomatic ties between Israel and the Holy See. (photo: CNS/Robert Duncan)
Plaintive pleas and rousing, rhythmic recognitions of God’s goodness filled the air at Rome’s main synagogue as Israeli and Vatican officials celebrated 25 years of formal diplomatic relations.
“A concert of sacred Jewish music in a highly symbolic place like the major synagogue of Rome highlights our special bond that is founded in our common root: the Bible,” Oren David, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, told Catholic News Service.
“Songs from the Psalms show that we have a common heritage, which is reflected in the biblical values that we share, and we want to bring attention to the special and unique bond between us,” said David, who hosted the concert on 13 June.
Nathan Lam, the cantor of Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, was one of four cantors to perform at the concert. He said the singers, who are ordained for service and can preside at weddings and funerals, purposefully chose songs with texts common to Jews and Christians for the celebration.
Jews and Christians will interpret those texts differently, he said, “but the fact that we share them is a very important commonality.”
“I hope this leads to more and more dialogue, to more and more celebrations of relationships that are productive and good,” Lam said.
Celebrating 25 years of formal Vatican-Israeli diplomatic relations is not only about the relationship of two states. The ties were built on decades of Catholic-Jewish dialogue, which first focused on healing a relationship wounded by anti-Jewish church teaching and then moved on to common religious and moral teachings.
Celebrating what has been accomplished does not mean ignoring the sticky issues that remain on a diplomatic, political and religious level: for example, diplomats on both sides continue to try to negotiate an agreement governing church property ownership and taxation issues; the Vatican continues to call for international guarantees of Jerusalem’s status as a city sacred to Jews, Christian and Muslims; and Jewish religious leaders continue to press Catholic theologians involved in dialogue to discuss the religious significance of the land of Israel.
The Israeli ambassador and Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, mentioned the three issues in their remarks before the concert. But they both also insisted there was much more to celebrate than to worry about.
“In our relations, political and religious issues are intertwined, this is why they are so special,” the ambassador told CNS.
For Catholics, the “special” relationship includes recognizing that Jesus was a Jew, the apostles were Jews and that Christianity not only recognized the Hebrew Scriptures -- the Old Testament -- as part of God’s revelation, but Catholics adopted and adapted Jewish liturgy, including the chanting and singing of the Psalms.
“Our liturgy stems from the liturgy of the Jewish people,” said the Rev. Norbert Hofmann, secretary of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. “For example, reading texts, interpreting texts, giving sermons on texts -- that already can be found in Judaism, in Jewish liturgy and practice.”
“Jews and Christians are praying with the same texts,” he said, “but with a different interpretation” because Christians would read those texts in the light of their faith in Jesus.
Lam, the “chazzan” or cantor, prayed that those differing understandings would not overshadow the basic shared faith in one God, the creator of all, and -- to a lesser degree -- in the power of music to carry prayer and to touch hearts.
Like Christian sacred music, Jewish sacred music includes many styles influenced by the cultures the Jews were living in when the music was written. The cantor and choir of the Rome synagogue, who also performed 13 June, had a unique sound and style reflecting what the program described as the Jewish “Roman rite.”
The songs are sacred not because of their style, Lam said, but because the texts are the word of God, and the music upholds, reflects and emphasizes its content.
For Jews and for Christians, the Psalms have a special connection to liturgical music and not just because
they are written in a poetic form that makes it natural to chant or sing them.
Lam, who has been the cantor at Stephen Wise Temple for 43 years, said the Psalms seem to be growing in importance for both Jews and Christians “because the Psalms are a great source of comfort, knowledge, joy and wisdom.”
The central piece of the anniversary concert fittingly was Psalm 122 with its prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, peace in the world and, finally a personal, “I pray for your good.”
You can watch a related video from CNS below:
12 April 2019
Tags: Vatican Jewish-Catholic relations
Pope Francis kisses the feet of South Sudan President Salva Kiir on 11 April 2019, at the conclusion of a two-day retreat at the Vatican for African nation’s political leaders. The pope begged the leaders to give peace a chance. At right is Vice President Riek Machar.
(photo: CNS/Vatican Media via Reuters)
At the end of a highly unusual spiritual retreat for the political leaders of warring factions, Pope Francis knelt at the feet of the leaders of South Sudan, begging them to give peace a chance and to be worthy “fathers of the nation.”
“As a brother, I ask you to remain in peace. I ask you from my heart, let’s go forward. There will be many problems, but do not be afraid,” he told the leaders, speaking without a text at the end of the meeting.
“You have begun a process, may it end well,” he said. “There will be disagreements among you, but may they take place ‘in the office’ while, in front of your people, you hold hands; in this way, you will be transformed from simple citizens to fathers of the nation.”
“The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will,” he said in his formal remarks on 11 April, closing the two-day retreat in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives.
The retreat participants included South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and four of the nation’s five designated vice presidents: Riek Machar, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior. Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in September, the vice presidents were to take office together on 12 May, sharing power and ending the armed conflict between clans and among communities.
The retreat was the idea of Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who attended the final part of the gathering. He and Pope Francis have been supporting the peace efforts of the South Sudan Council of Churches and, the pope said again on 11 April, they hope to visit South Sudan together when there is peace.
Pope Francis told the politicians and members of the Council of Churches that “peace” was the first word Jesus said to his disciples after the resurrection.
“Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue,” he told them. “Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people.”
When South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of war, the people were filled with hope, the pope said. Too many of them have died or been forced from their homes or face starvation because of five years of civil war.
After “so much death, hunger, hurt and tears,” the pope said, the retreat participants “have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our father, who desires to grant them justice and peace.”
“Peace is possible,” the pope told the leaders. They must tap into “a spirit that is noble, upright, strong and courageous to build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness.”
As leaders of a people, he said, those who govern will have to stand before God and give an account of their actions, especially what they did or didn’t do for the poor and the marginalized.
Pope Francis asked the leaders to linger a moment in the mood of the retreat and sense that “we stand before the gaze of the Lord, who is able to see the truth in us and to lead us fully to that truth.”
The leaders, he said, should recognize how God loves them, wants to forgive them and calls them to build a country at peace.
Jesus, he said, calls all believers to repentance. “We may well have made mistakes, some rather small, others much greater,” but Jesus always is ready to forgive those who repent and return to serving their people.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “Jesus is also gazing, here and now, upon each one of us. He looks at us with love, he asks something, he forgives something, and he gives us a mission. He has put great trust in us by choosing us to be his co-workers in the creation of a more just world.”
Pope Francis expressed his hope that “hostilities will finally cease -- please, may they cease -- that the armistice will be respected, and that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted.”
Closing his prepared remarks with a prayer, he asked God “to touch with the power of the Spirit the depths of every human heart, so that enemies will be open to dialogue, adversaries will join hands and peoples will meet in harmony.”
“By your gift, Father, may the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes, may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness, so that, relying solely on your mercy, we may find our way back to you,” he prayed.
11 March 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Interreligious Africa Interfaith
A representative of the American Jewish Committee gives Pope Francis a certificate on 8 March 2019, certifying that a grapevine in Israel has been dedicated to him and promising that each year he will receive a bottle of wine produced with the vine's grapes. (photo: CNS/Vatican Media)
Engaging in any form of anti-Semitism is a direct contradiction with the Christian faith, Pope Francis said.
Meeting members of the American Jewish Committee on 8 March, the pope shared his “great concern” over “the spread, in many places, of a climate of wickedness and fury, in which an excessive and depraved hatred is taking root,” including “the outbreak of anti-Semitic attacks in various countries.”
“It is necessary to be vigilant about such a phenomenon,” he said, because, as the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews said, “History teaches us where even the slightest perceptible forms of anti-Semitism can lead: the human tragedy of the Shoah, in which two-thirds of European Jewry were annihilated.”
Cultivating good relations, showing respect for others and being vigilant against any sign of hatred and prejudice is “a call from God,” the pope said.
Christians and Jews, he said, must transmit to their children “the foundations of love and respect. And we must look at the world with the eyes of a mother, with the gaze of peace.”
Meeting the group on International Women’s Day, Pope Francis spoke of “the irreplaceable contribution of women in building a world that can be a home for all,” a home where believers strive to fulfill God’s command in Deuteronomy to “love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.”
“Women make the world beautiful, they protect it and keep it alive,” the pope said. “They bring the grace of renewal, the embrace of inclusion and the courage to give of oneself.”
“If we take to heart the importance of the future, if we dream of a future peace, we need to give space to women,” Pope Francis said.
Interreligious dialogue, he said, is an important part of efforts to fight hatred and anti-Semitism. The dialogue aims to promote “a commitment to peace, mutual respect, the protection of life, religious freedom and the care of creation.”
Pope Francis urged Jews and Christians to work together, countering the spread of “a depersonalizing secularism” by “making divine love more visible for humanity” and engaging in common works of charity “to counter the growth of indifference.”
“In a world where the distance between the many who have little and the few who have much grows every day,” he said, “we are called to take care of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters: the poor, the weak, the sick, children and the elderly.”
Pope Francis also encouraged Catholics and Jews to involve young people in interreligious dialogue as “an effective means of countering violence and opening new paths of peace with all.”
John Shapiro, president of the American Jewish Committee, thanked Pope Francis for deciding to open to scholars in March 2020 material in the Vatican Secret Archives covering World War II and the papacy of Pope Pius XII.
“We look forward especially to the involvement of the leading Holocaust memorial institutes in Israel and the U.S. to objectively evaluate as best as possible the historical record of that most terrible of times, to acknowledge both the failures as well as valiant efforts during the period of the Shoah,” Shapiro said, according to a statement from the AJC.
Members of the group also presented Pope Francis with a certificate testifying that a grapevine dedicated to him would be the first in a “vineyard of the nations,” a vineyard in Israel where each vine is sponsored by a Christian outside of the country. In addition, they told the pope, each year he would receive a bottle of wine from his vine.
15 February 2019
Tags: Pope Jewish-Catholic relations anti-Semitism
Even if Christians struggle to recognize him with his “torn clothes (and) dirty feet,” Jesus is present in the migrants and refugees who seek safety and a dignified life in a new land, Pope Francis said.
If Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me,” are true, the pope said, then “we must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the ‘others’ who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome and assist Jesus in person.”
Pope Francis spoke about overcoming fear and welcoming others during a Mass he celebrated 15 February at a church-run retreat and conference center in Sacrofano, about 15 miles north of Rome.
The Mass was part of a conference titled, “Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear,” which was sponsored by the Italian bishops’ office for migration, Caritas Italy and Jesuit Refugee Service’s Centro Astalli. The 500 participants included representatives of parishes, religious orders and Catholic-run agencies assisting migrants and refugees, as well as individual families who host newcomers.
At a time when Italy’s government is trying to severely restrict immigration, Caritas Italy said the meeting was designed to encourage those working with migrants and refugees and to counteract fear of migration by highlighting how individuals and the entire country benefit from welcoming them.
At a Mass on Friday, Pope Francis preached about the necessity of welcoming migrants and refugees. (video: CNS/YouTube)
The prayers of the faithful, most of which were read by migrants, included asking God to help pastors educate all Catholics to welcome migrants and refugees and to help government leaders promote tolerance and peace. Ending, as is traditional, with a prayer for the dead, the petitions made special mention of people who were killed for their faith.
In his homily, Pope Francis noted how the ancient Israelites had to overcome their fear of crossing the Red Sea and trust God in order to make it to the promised land. And, when the disciples were on the lake in a storm, Jesus told them to not be afraid and assured them he was there with them.
“The Lord speaks to us today and asks us to allow him to free us of our fear,” the pope said.
“Fear is the origin of slavery,” just as it was for the ancient Israelites, he said, “and it is also the origin of every dictatorship because, on the fear of the people, the violence of the dictator grows.”
Of course, the pope said, people naturally are afraid of what they don’t understand and of strangers who speak another language and have another culture. The Christian response is not to play on those fears, but to educate people and help them turn strangers into friends.
“We are called to overcome fear and open ourselves to encounter,” he said. “The encounter with the ‘other,’ then, is also an encounter with Christ. He himself told us this. It is he who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted.”
Pope Francis asked Catholics who have had “the joy” of assisting migrants and refugees to “proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and his salvation.”
11 February 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Refugees Migrants
A man sits on his chair in a small village in the Toubkal region near Imlil, Morocco on 12 January 2019. Pope Francis plans to visit Morocco next month. (photo: CNS/Youssef Boudlal, Reuters)
Pope Francis’ trip to Morocco on 30-31 March will include a visit to a school training an international group of Muslim prayer leaders and preachers, including women.
He also will visit to a Caritas center assisting migrants, many of whom ended up in the North African country with hopes of eventually making it to Europe.
Returning to Rome from the United Arab Emirates on 5 February, Pope Francis told journalists he had hoped to go to Marrakech, Morocco, in December for the signing of the U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, but protocol dictated that he make a full visit to the country and there was not time in December.
The trip in March will include a full slate of formal events, including a meeting with King Mohammed VI and a visit to the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, who negotiated the country’s independence from France and ruled until his death in 1961.
The visit to Morocco, where more than 99 percent of the population is Muslim, will give Pope Francis an opportunity to continue the reflections on Christian-Muslim relations he began in Abu Dhabi in February. As he did in the United Arab Emirates, he is expected to highlight 2019 as the 800th anniversary of the encounter of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil of Egypt.
When the Vatican first announced the trip in November, it said the pope would visit both Rabat, the capital, and Casablanca. But the Vatican said on 9 February it had accepted “the proposal by Moroccan authorities to limit the trip to the city of Rabat to facilitate the visit of the Holy Father.”
View the full itinerary of the trip here.
18 January 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Muslim
In this image from 2015, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, Bishop Camillo Ballin, apostolic vicar of Northern Arabia, Sheik Nahyan and Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, cut a ribbon during the inauguration of St. Paul’s Church in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates next month.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia)
When Pope Francis visits Abu Dhabi 3-5 February, he will visit a land where interreligious tolerance is mandated by law; while Catholics in the United Arab Emirates count their blessings for that, the pope is expected to nudge for something more.
Tolerance is praiseworthy, and Catholics in the Emirates do not take it for granted. But for Pope Francis, the next step — and often a big one — is mutual knowledge, respect and cooperation.
As the pope said in Bangladesh in late 2017, “respect and shaping a culture of encounter, dialogue and cooperation in the service of our human family” requires “more than mere tolerance. It challenges us to reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding, and so to build a unity that sees diversity not as a threat, but as a potential source of enrichment and growth.”
The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia cares for the almost 1 million Catholics living in the Emirates, Oman and Yemen. The faithful belong to 16 parishes -- with Mass offered in a dozen languages in churches, chapels and meeting rooms, sometimes simultaneously.
In the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates on the southeast edge of the Arabian Peninsula, the ruling families have donated land for Catholic and other Christian churches. But no bells call the faithful to prayer and no crosses can be visible from the street.
Islam is the state religion and the faith of almost all of its citizens. But citizens account for less than 20 percent of the Emirates’ population; most of the rest are foreign workers from almost every country in the world and include significant numbers of Catholics from India and the Philippines.
“We have experienced great benevolence from the leaders of the Emirates to be able to worship in the churches that have been built on land generously donated by them,” said Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the apostolic vicariate. “These gestures and the continuous efforts by the state to create an environment of tolerance and harmony in the community are very encouraging.”
The Catholic parishes run busy Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults programs, but only for foreigners. “Most of our RCIA candidates come from other Christian denominations or did not have a life in faith at all. Some are Hindu,” said Marcus Khoury, who assists with the program at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi.
Bringing adults into the Catholic faith is “a delicate matter where we have to be careful at all times,” Khoury said. “We are not allowed to proselytize among Muslims, and therefore have to make sure that our RCIA candidates were not originally Muslim.”
For Khoury, who worked for a year in neighboring Saudi Arabia, where Christianity can be practiced only in private homes, “Abu Dhabi is fortunately very open and relaxed when it comes to practicing other religions.”
Khoury works as in-house legal counsel specializing in construction and arbitration law. Many Muslims, he said, know just by his name that he is Christian, or at least from a Christian family. But “my Muslim co-workers rarely talk about religion with me. To a certain extent it still is a touchy subject, as one may risk being misunderstood as proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims when talking to them about Christianity.”
At work and at school, Bishop Hinder said, Catholics interact with their Muslim sisters and brothers and people of other faiths, so friendships are formed and cultures shared.
But the visit of the pope, which will include “the first ever public Mass in the country,” will bring even more attention to the Catholic community, the bishop said, so Catholics want “to put our best foot forward to shine during this time.”
Feras Hamza is a Dubai-based professor and Islamic historian who has participated in high-level Christian-Muslim dialogue programs. He told Catholic News Service, “The lived reality of day-to-day interaction, co-existence and social exchange -- economic, cultural or otherwise -- is itself a form of continuous dialogue” and one that best describes “the state of Christian-Muslim relations in the UAE.”
“Christians and Muslims in the UAE do not need to discuss their scriptures to demonstrate ‘dialogue,’“ he said. “‘Religion’ cannot be singled out from what anthropologists would call ‘culture,’“ and people’s “values may be anchored in and shaped by religious traditions, but they ultimately have life and meaning only in communal exchange and in the everyday.”
A sign of how seriously the UAE takes tolerance, he said, is the appointment of a Cabinet “minister of state for tolerance” and the proclamation by Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed, the UAE president, of 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance.”
In addition to focusing on dialogue with his Muslim hosts, Pope Francis will devote time to the international community of Catholics living in the Emirates. Those Catholics include lawyers like Khoury and financiers, doctors, nurses, teachers and tens of thousands of maids and construction workers.
For many of the domestic and blue-collar workers, a job in the Emirates is a great opportunity to work and send money home to their families. But policing their working conditions has not been easy; the government continues to enact protections, such as making it illegal for an employer to confiscate the worker’s passport, regulating the fees employers can withhold from paychecks, mandating a maximum 12-hour work day for domestics and guaranteeing one day off each week.
The Catholic parishes are one of the few places in the Emirates where foreign workers of all countries and categories come together.
Khoury, the lawyer, said his French-language community at St. Joseph’s includes people from France, Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq, Cameroon and Egypt. It lets him “break through the otherwise typical expat bubble in which expatriates-foreigners largely stick to their own nationality and social class.”
Many of the migrants are unmarried. Bishop Hinder said that through their involvement in parish communities “they end up becoming each other’s support system for spiritual growth and in personal relations.”
And while the government has made strides in protecting workers, “there are sometimes unfortunate situations where migrant workers find themselves in dire straits if companies close down or salaries are not paid,” the bishop said. “All parishes have set up community-service initiatives to help in this type of case,” with volunteers providing legal assistance, parishioners collecting food and clothing and sponsors coming forward to pay for a stranded worker’s plane ticket back home.
As guests in a foreign land, Bishop Hinder said, Catholics know their actions speak louder than words, and “living in peace and harmony becomes a natural priority.”
“We do not take anything for granted,” the bishop said, “but we are thankful to the Lord for his grace in being able to live and share our faith in the communities we live in.”
Tags: Muslim Arabs