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.”
18 January 2019
Tags: Muslim Arabs
The Vatican yesterday announced guidelines to help the fight against human trafficking.
(video: Rome Reports/YouTube)
Vatican releases guidelines to help in fighting human trafficking (CNS) The Vatican has created a set of pastoral guidelines to inspire and improve the church’s work in addressing the crime of human trafficking and the care of its victims worldwide. The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development released its “Pastoral Orientations on Human Trafficking” 17 January at a Vatican news conference…
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at heart of ecumenism (Vatican News) The joint celebration that kicks off the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a powerful symbol of unity and of the recognition that Christian denominations are on the path to unity and getting closer in doctrine. The Week of Prayer, traditionally observed from 18 to 25 January, unfolds this year on the theme “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” inspired by Deuteronomy…
Ukraine approves property law affecting thousands of churches (AP) Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday adopted a bill spelling out procedures for transferring church property after a new unified Ukrainian Orthodox church was granted independence. The bill could potentially affect some 12,000 churches in Ukraine and vast amounts of property, including the gems of Orthodox Christianity like the vast Pechersk Monastery in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev…
Ethiopia allows almost one million refugees to live and work outside camps (Reuters) Ethiopia passed a law on Thursday giving almost 1 million refugees the right to work and live outside of camps, in a move praised for providing them with more dignity and reducing reliance on foreign aid…
Jerusalem hit by rare snowstorm (The Daily Mail) Snow covered Jerusalem in a rare flurry which swept across the Holy Land last night, including at the Dome of the Rock and Western Wall. Citizens of Jerusalem flocked to the streets to enjoy the rare sighting, with some even grabbing hold of their toboggans…
17 January 2019
Tags: Ethiopia Ukraine Jerusalem Christian Unity
In this image from 2018, Pope Francis, surrounded by clergy of different Christian traditions, holds an icon as he exchanges gifts with students of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey near Geneva. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In all of the countries where CNEWA works, from India to the Horn of Africa, Christians will be observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Catholics of the Latin and Eastern rites, as well as Orthodox Christians, will pray for the unity of the followers of Christ. This week is especially important for CNEWA because it was initiated 101 years ago by the Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A., who happens also to be one of the co-founders of CNEWA.
The theme for 2019 was chosen by Christians in Indonesia and is taken from Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, only justice, you shall pursue.” By choosing the theme of justice, Indonesian Christians wanted to make an important point. Living as they do in the most populous Muslim country in the world, they are acutely aware of two things. First, they realize that they are not only a minority but a divided minority. Many different churches with their believers can be found on the Indonesia archipelago. They realize that their divisions weaken the power of their witness in an overwhelmingly non-Christian environment. And secondly, they are aware of the importance of justice both for themselves and others.
The whole notion of Christian Unity can understandably come across as a rather “churchy” thing that deals with ancient doctrines, rituals, and controversies which many modern people no longer understand and hostilities which many Christians find scandalous. The struggle for Christian Unity can appear to be a rather inward- looking affair, disconnected from the world at large.
The theme of justice, however, adds an important element to the quest for Christian Unity. Unity does not merely look inward; it is profoundly related to the world. All Christians see the Gospel of Jesus as transforming the world. Christians have never and can never be indifferent to the problems we all face: war, oppression, violence, racism, hatred, poverty, etc. The biblical call to justice is a call to Christians to work together to overcome these problems and to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.
The regions in which CNEWA works experience all these challenges. In dealing with the problems mentioned above, we work closely with the different local churches—both Catholic and Orthodox—in service to people who are vulnerable and suffering.
When our efforts are scattered and divided, when there is even competition between churches, the task of seeking justice in our world is significantly weakened. By stressing justice this year, the ideal of Christian Unity is put into a very important context. Christian Unity is not seen primarily in the context of overcoming ancient controversies. Rather Christian Unity is seen in the context of service to the world.
The pursuit of justice to which all Christians are called is weakened and even compromised by our divisions. If Christians see their God-given calling as serving the world and transforming it into the Kingdom of God, we must work to remove any obstacles that make that calling harder to fulfill.
The Christians of Indonesia have given us all a challenge in the theme for the 2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—a challenge both ancient and new: ”Justice, only justice shall you pursue.”
17 January 2019
Tags: Ecumenism Christian Unity Orthodox
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)
17 January 2019
Pope Francis speaks during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican on 16 January.
(photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope: Christian unity is not optional (Vatican News) Pope Francis has reminded the faithful that “Ecumenism is not something optional.” Speaking during the weekly General Audience, the Pope looked ahead to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that takes place from 18 to 25 January. He noted that the annual “Week of Prayer”, on the theme “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue,” kicks off with the celebration of Vespers in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Friday…
Bishops visit West Bank refugee camp (Vatican News) The camp is run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is also aiding refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Travelling with the Bishops on this annual trip to support the Christian community living in the Holy Land, is Sean Farrell, Head of International Development with Trócaire, Ireland’s Catholic Development agency…
Pope appoints new bishop in India (Vatican News) The Holy Father on 17 January appointed the Rev. Stephen Antony Pillai as the new Bishop of Tuticorin, who takes over from retired Bishop Yvon Ambroise…
Indian court rules in favor of Christian missionary (UCANews.com) Delhi High Court recently quashed an order to deport a Christian doctor, India-born U.S. citizen Christo Thomas Philip, by ruling he has the right to practice his faith and offer his services for free, even if that involves propagating his faith…
Report names worst places of Christian persecution (The Express) Christians around the world are facing increasing levels of persecution, shocking new research has revealed, with those in Asia most likely to risk imprisonment, torture and even death for practicing the faith…
16 January 2019
Tags: India Gaza Strip/West Bank Christian Unity
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.”
16 January 2019
Tags: Pope Francis Jewish-Catholic relations
Bishops from North America, Europe and South Africa visit the UNRWA camp and school in Jenin, West Bank. The visit was part of the annual Holy Land Coordination.
(photo: CNS/courtesy Marcin Mazur via catholicnews.org.uk)
Bishops see ‘incomprehensible complexity’ of Holy Land situation (CNS)Visiting with Christian communities in northern Israel and the northern Palestinian Territories has helped bishops participating in the annual Holy Land Coordination see “the great need” to promote an understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, said Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, Ireland...
Victims of anti-Christian violence in India still denied justice (Vatican News) The Catholic Church of eastern India’s Odisha state organized a meeting on Saturday to assess the state of justice and compensation with regard to the victims and survivors of the terrible anti-Christian violence in the state more than 10 years ago. About 3,000 survivors of the violence of Christmas 2007 and August 2008 and thereafter, together with Catholic Church authorities, lay leaders and rights activists gathered on 12 January in Raikia town of Odisha’s Kandhamal district that was the epicenter of the outrage…
Syrian Kurds reject Turkey-controlled security zone (Al Jazeera) Syria’s Kurds on Wednesday rejected a US proposal for a “security zone” under Turkish control along the Syrian side of the two countries’ border. Russia, meanwhile, said only its ally, the Syrian military, should police the war-torn country’s north…
Gaza health ministry warns of hospital shutdowns (The Jerusalem Post) Gaza hospitals are in danger of shutting down due to a fuel crisis, in particular the hospital in Beit Hanoun, the Gaza Health Ministry warned Tuesday in an English language post its Faceook page. ”In an unprecedented and rapid tragedy, the fuel crisis in hospitals and primary care centers continues to hit critical levels,” it said…
15 January 2019
Tags: Syria India Middle East Christians Gaza Strip/West Bank
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)