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SA: We have to work assiduously to make sure that the children are growing up in our faith. Growing up in India means that there is a communal family structure. Grandparents live with the family, brothers and sisters are always nearby, and there are Christian neighbors and a parish with activities of all types. In Qatar, however, it is much different. Even if I go regularly to church here, Syro-Malabar Catholics do not have adequate access to services in our tradition in the Gulf. The children miss out.

ONE: So you have attended the Latin-rite Mass for want of the Divine Liturgy in the Syro-Malabar’s tradition?

SA: For a starving man, whatever food he gets is good food. When he has options, he will opt for the best food. It was a situation like that when I first got here.

ONE: What have you done to promote your own Catholic tradition in your community?

SA: We have regular activities in the church — social activities, cultural programs, charity drives. Children are witnessing how parents are contributing toward a better society by helping people and by creating new things. These are important mental, moral and social lessons. This helps compensate for the shortfall in access to services and pastoral care.

ONE: Thanks in large part to lay advocacy, the first and only Syro-Malabar Catholic church in the region was erected in 2009. How did you achieve that?

SA: In 1999, we started the Syro-Malabar Cultural Association. We approached the Indian Embassy for visas for our priest, and then priests began to make regular visits. This is the first time I became actively involved in the activities of the church, writing letters to various members of the Catholic hierarchy — from Pope John Paul II to the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, to the local bishops here in the Gulf. I would draft at least one such letter per month.

ONE: What’s the next challenge for your community?

SA: A pressing challenge is the formation of a Syro-Malabar exarchate [a jurisdiction similar to an apostolic vicariate] here. We feel the Holy See will one day declare an exarchate and we feel that Qatar is the ideal place for its seat.

ONE: Would you say your experience in Qatar has brought you closer to your faith and your church?

SA: Back in India, I was never part of a minority. It never occurred to me that I would have to work to preserve my heritage until coming to Qatar. In the beginning, I wondered: “What is the difference between all these Catholic churches? Their churches look the same. The liturgies are practically the same. Jesus is one. So, why the differences?” But I soon recognized that these different traditions each have value.

Becoming active in church life here has taught me about the relationship one should have with God, and through this I continue to grow. So in a way, my life in Qatar helped me to become a more spiritual and faith-filled man.

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A regular contributor to ONE, Don Duncan has covered the Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times and Agence France Presse.

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