18 January 2019
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.”
17 January 2019
Tags: Muslim Arabs
A small dog is seen as a member of the Carabinieri, the Italian military police, rides his horse in a parade before the traditional blessing of farm animals and Italian military horses outside the Vatican on 17 January. The event takes place every year on the feast of St. Anthony the Abbot, known as the protector of animals. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
16 January 2019
In this image from 2014, Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Buenos Aires and Pope Francis embrace after visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The pope has written the introduction to an Italian book of Christian and Jewish commentaries on the first five books of the Bible. Rabbi Skorka wrote one of the commentaries. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
A few decades of respectful Catholic-Jewish dialogue pale in comparison to “19 centuries of Christian anti-Judaism,” Pope Francis said, so Catholics must continue to ask forgiveness and forge new bonds of respect and friendship with the Jewish community.
“We must work with greater intensity to ask pardon and repair the damage,” the pope said in an introduction to a new Italian book of Christian and Jewish commentaries on passages from the first five books of the Bible, which are known collectively as the Torah or Pentateuch.
Pope Francis said the volume of commentaries, “The Bible of Friendship,” is an important tool for helping Catholics recognize the Jewish roots of their faith and for promoting concrete Catholic-Jewish cooperation in helping others.
“It is of vital importance for Christians to discover and foster knowledge of the Jewish tradition in order to understand themselves more authentically,” the pope said, and studying the Bible is an essential part of that effort.
Reading the Hebrew Scriptures together, he said, helps people discover the richness of the word of God. “The common objective will be to witness together to the love of the Father throughout the world.”
“The values, traditions and great ideas that characterize Judaism and Christianity must be placed at the service of humanity without ever forgetting the sacredness and authenticity of friendship,” he said.
“For Jews as for Christians there is no doubt that love of God and love for one’s neighbor summarize all the commandments,” he said. “Therefore, Jews and Christians must feel like brothers and sisters, united by the same God and by a rich, common spiritual patrimony on which to base and continue to build the future.”
15 January 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Jewish-Catholic relations
The Rev Thomas Rosica interviews Tim McCarthy, who manages CNEWA’s digital assets, and Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, for Canada’s Salt + Light Television. (photo: CNEWA)
We were delighted to welcome to the New York office this morning the Rev. Thomas Rosica, CSB, who is the CEO of Salt + Light Catholic Media Foundation and the guiding light behind Salt + Light TV, the booming Catholic television channel in Canada, which now streams online around the world.
Father Rosica is producing a segment on CNEWA for the channel. As part of the story, he interviewed our president, Msgr. Kozar, our digital assets manager, Tim McCarthy and multimedia editor Deacon Greg Kandra about the work we do and how we share that work through our magazine and online.
Msgr. Kozar and Tim McCarthy explain CNEWA’s mission during the interview with Father Rosica. (photo: CNEWA)
It was a privilege and a pleasure to host him and his production team. We look forward to being able to share our story with others through Salt + Light. Stay tuned!
Msgr. Kozar and Father Rosica. (photo: CNEWA)
15 January 2019
President Trump spoke with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday and discussed the possibility of a ‘safe zone’ in Syria. (video: CBS News/YouTube)
Leaders discuss possible ‘security zone’ for Syria (Al Jazeera) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, have discussed the situation in northern Syria over the phone amid rising tensions over the fate of Kurdish fighters in the war-torn country…
Syrian refugees brave harsh weather (Al Jazeera) Some 574 settlement structures and more than 22,000 refugees across the country were affected by the time the “ruthless” storm subsided a few days ago, according to figures from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Lebanon is home to more than one million Syrian refugees, most of whom live in informal settlements made out of tarpaulin tents supported by wooden frames. A major issue faced in the camps during rainfalls is the overflowing septic tanks, which leads to the seeping of sewage water into the camp’s crammed tents…
Number of student suicides climbing in India (UCANews.com) Exam stress and students’ fear of disappointing their parents, who often have high expectations, have been suggested as the main reasons for the spiking number of suicides in the country at this time of year. ”One student kills self every hour in India,” ran the headline of a Times of India story last year, citing the latest available government data from 2016. It said 9,474 students committed suicide in 2016…
Protesters block priests from entering church in Ukraine (Radio Free Europe) There was a confrontation at a church in northern Ukraine, as residents prevented priests affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate from entering on Sunday, 13 January. There has been tension in the Orthodox community since the Orthodox Church of Ukraine recently split from the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate…
Orthodox Church has no plans to change date of Russian Christmas (The Moscow Times) The Russian Orthodox Church has said it has no plans to move the date Christmas to 25 December in line with other Christian churches. Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar, which celebrates the birth of Christ on 7 January. Some Russian officials, including the firebrand leader of the LDRP Vladimir Zhirinovsky, have previously called for Russians to celebrate Christmas on 25 December as dictated by the Gregorian calendar…
14 January 2019
Tags: Syria India Ukraine Russian Orthodox Church Refugee Camps
The Rev. D. Raed Badr holds an Iraqi infant during a baptism in Jordan on 11 January. The water used was from the River Jordan, at the site of Jesus’ baptism. Also pictured is the Rev. Simon Hijazin. Sunday 13 January marked the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
(photo: CNS/courtesy of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media)
11 January 2019
Young Catholics from around the world pray at a church in United Arab Emirates in this undated photo. Approximately one million Catholics reside in the UAE as expatriate workers, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia. Pope Francis will visit Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital next month. (photo: CNS/Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia)
Catholics from around the world living in the United Arab Emirates are waiting with great anticipation for Pope Francis’ 3-5 February visit, the first papal trip to the Arabian Peninsula.
“Pope Francis is the ambassador of peace, courageously crossing borders and fostering personal encounters with religious leaders, heads of states and humanitarian organizations in the Arab world,” said the Rev. Johnson Kadukkan, parish priest at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, where Pope Francis will stop for a private visit on 5 February before celebrating Mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium.
There are eight Catholic churches throughout the seven emirates of the UAE, with a ninth church under construction. Each church offers an extensive schedule of “weekend” Masses, all of which are full. Since the UAE is an Islamic country and Friday is considered a day of prayer for Muslims, Catholics attend weekend Mass on Friday or Saturday; Sunday is a workday.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, for example, has about 90,000 parishioners, with eight priests celebrating nearly 20 Masses during the weekend in various languages: Arabic, English, Tagalog, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Korean, Polish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Sinhalese and the Indian languages of Konkani, Malayalam and Tamil.
“The rulers of the UAE have been benevolent and tolerant, allowing us to practice our faith in the places of worship, and for this we are very thankful,” Father Kadukkan said.
Reflecting on the significance of Pope Francis’ visit, Joseph Khadige, a Lebanese who has been working in the UAE since 1982, told Catholic News Service that Pope Francis’ visit is “a sign from God. It is something we never thought would happen in our lifetime, for a pope to visit the UAE. The world should understand: This is not a small thing.”
Some people in the West confuse the UAE with Saudi Arabia, Khadige noted.
“So, when we say that 70,000 people attend a single church, they might say ‘impossible,’“ he said, in reference to the approximate number of parishioners at his parish, St. Michael’s in Sharja, an emirate close to Dubai.
On the contrary, Khadige said, “Here in the UAE, we practice our faith in full.”
From his experience, Khadige, general manager for an Italian global firm, has noticed that many Christians from the West who are lukewarm or practically atheists when they first arrive in the UAE as expatriate workers eventually are influenced by their active Christian peers.
“They see a lot of staff in their companies and organizations are going to church.” Little by little, he said, they are inspired to return to the church.
“They are now believers, and they are calling the priests to bless their house, to bless their children. And they enroll their children in catechism classes to be more active,” Khadige said, noting that in every church, there are around 5,000 children enrolled in such classes.
“It’s not just about the numbers. It’s about what is happening in a Muslim country,” he said.
Ed Magbag of the Philippines, a project manager with a design and engineering firm who has worked in the UAE for 14 years, notes that the UAE “is like a home away from home for all Christians.”
Parishioners of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, he and his wife are active in Couples for Christ, a global lay ecclesial movement, which has about 15,000 active members in the UAE.
Pope Francis’ visit “will show the world that despite different cultures, races, religions and practices, there is respect, love and coexistence of all local people and expatriates in the UAE,” Magbag told CNS.
Magbag considers Pope Francis’ visit to the UAE as “the best gift,” that “rekindles the fire in the heart of the faithful,” who are expecting spiritual nourishment.
Like many fellow Catholics in the UAE, the Magbags cut short their vacation to their homeland to be present in the UAE for Pope Francis’ visit.
“This is one experience we must not miss,” he said. Many workers are asking for a day of leave for the Pope’s 5 February Mass at the stadium.
“Pope Francis symbolizes God’s presence on earth and so, when the Pope Francis is visiting the UAE, it is as if God is visiting his children in the Middle East, not only Christians, but our Muslim brethren as well,” Magbag added.
“Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” is the theme for this papal visit, taken from the opening words of the Prayer of Peace of St. Francis Assisi, from whom Pope Francis has taken his name. The logo of the visit is a dove bearing an olive branch.
“Pope Francis is building bridges and creating an environment for peaceful dialogue to achieve peace and harmony globally,” Father Kadukkan told CNS.
“The UAE government has made huge strides by inviting Pope Francis to the country, and this is a step in the right direction to achieve tolerance, both within the Emirates as well as within the region,” the Indian priest told CNS.
The UAE government is organizing the visit with support from the Catholic Church.
Additionally, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE president, has declared 2019 as the Year of Tolerance.
Approximately 1 million Catholics reside in the UAE as foreign workers, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia.
They come from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, with the majority from India and the Philippines.
10 January 2019
Tags: Muslim Arabian Peninsula
Sister Veronique administers the Franciscan Sisters’ School in Beni Suef, Egypt. In the current issue of ONE magazine, read more about how the sisters are bringing Signs of Hope to the region. (photo: Roger Anis)
9 January 2019
Devaki, 76, awaits the visit of a mobile care unit, which helps her care for her disabled son.
(photo: Meenakshi Soman)
The current edition of ONE takes readers on a journey into some of the poorest parts of India, where a mobile clinic is bringing healing and hope:
“Some of these families live in remote and far out places. They live by themselves in jungles. Access is difficult. But we find a way,” Father Elambasseril says.
R. Vasudevan lies on the floor of a small room. He lives in a small hut in the Dalit village of Ittakaveli. The tropical humidity is at its peak this late October afternoon. Mosquitoes buzz around.
Vasudevan was 21 when he fell off his motorbike. People around him thought he was drunk; no one called for help. Because of the delay in medical attention, his paralysis from the waist down became permanent.
“I’ve been bedridden for the last 27 years now,” the 48-year-old says. “But I am mentally strong and have been able to survive this.” Despite his suffering, he radiates good cheer.
His mother, Devaki, 76, is his full-time caregiver. “I have three daughters,” she says. “They visit occasionally and help bathe him.”
Both Devaki and Vasudevan look forward to their weekly visit from the Mother Teresa care team. “The priest prays. The volunteers and the nurse make conversation. I have visitors,” Vasudevan says, smiling.
Read more about Healing the Forgotten in the December 2018 edition of ONE.
8 January 2019
A boy prepares to receive Communion during a Divine Liturgy marking the feast of the Nativity at St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in New York City on 7 January. The Ukrainian Catholic Church and other Eastern Catholic churches celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar.
(photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
Tags: Ukrainian Catholic Church