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PH: It’s a delicate issue. Me too, I’m a migrant. I have to renew my residence license here every third year — if not every second. So, of course we are all in the same boat and the possibilities to intervene as a migrant are thin. Where we have direct contact with the rulers, we tell them about our situation, avoiding too much criticism because they don’t like that. It’s not in the culture. But just to say, “look, this is the situation, maybe there is a solution for this” — that can pass.

Then, the main work within the parishes is to help people. In many cases it’s simply to help them get back to their home country because here they are lost; pay a ticket or help them get out of a visa crisis; or to offer security to runaway domestic workers, for example, who have been abused in one way or another. We also help them to get to their respective embassy.

ONE: The government requires that church compounds close from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for security reasons. That leaves you 17 hours to divide the facilities among various Catholic communities. How do you strike a balance?

PH: You have to distribute the cake in sections. Of course during the day there’s little to do because people have to work, but every evening you have the problem of how to divide the cake. It’s a problem especially in big parishes like St. Mary’s in Dubai and St. Joseph’s in Abu Dhabi.

Besides the availability of priests who can celebrate in the respective rite or language, I have the challenge of fixing the timetable. Of course everyone wants to celebrate on Fridays, being the day of rest. So, on Fridays, we normally have 10 to 12 liturgies from morning to evening in big parishes. You have to think about the catechism, also. There are between 6,000 and 7,000 children in St. Mary’s and close to 4,000 here in Abu Dhabi. We have to teach in shifts, without the children missing Mass. So you simply reach a limit.

Most of the Catholics are Latin, but there are also Syro-Malabar Catholics, the biggest Eastern Catholic community here. Then we have Maronites, Melkites, Syriac Catholics, some Chaldeans, Armenian Catholics, we have some Coptic Catholics, then the Syro-Malankara, not to mention the Eastern Europeans — Ukrainian Greek Catholics and so on. I try to be in dialogue with the different groups, and I can tell you: I don’t think that any other issue has taken so much of my time as this.

ONE: What positive outcomes have come from this situation?

PH: Many of the logistical issues we have are not easy to resolve. But if you ask some Arabic-speaking Christians — here all the Arabic-speaking Christians go to the same liturgy — and many of them have told me that it’s wonderful because for the first time in their lives, they are all together. When they go back to Lebanon or to Syria, they go to their respective churches and are suddenly no longer in the same Eucharist. Here the Maronites and Chaldeans are together, for example, something that never happens back home.

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