“The faithful are bursting with enthusiasm. We didn’t have much time for preparations, less than two months, but we are now approaching the day event and we are looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit with great joy and strength of feeling. Logistics have been accurately organized and coordinated by the local Government. As regards the spiritual preparations, over the past weeks our communities have gathered to pray in every Mass that the visit may be ‘blessed from the Heavens.’ Unfortunately not everyone will be able to attend the Mass with the Holy Father but they will still be able to follow it from home or from churches through live-streaming broadcasts.” Only two days to go until the Pope Francis’ departure for the apostolic visit to United Arab Emirates (February 3-5), the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. Mons. Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, that includes United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen, described the hours leading up to this landmark event to SIR.
“We await the Holy Father – he said – praying with the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace’, chosen as the theme of the visit. We hope it will mark an important step in the dialogue between Muslims and Christians and a contribution to peace in the Middle East.”These words reflect those of Pope Francis in his video message for the visit: “We are brothers and sisters even though we are different. I am happy that in a few days I will be able to visit your country, a land that seeks to be a model of coexistence, human brotherhood and encounter between different civilizations and cultures where many find a secure place to work and live freely in respect for diversity.” The Holy Father was invited to participate in an interreligious meeting on “Human Brotherhood” to Abu Dhabi by the Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who in a tweet posted last December defined the Pontiff a “symbol of peace, tolerance and promotion of brotherhood. We look forward to this historic visit, that we hope will foster dialogue and peaceful coexistence among peoples.” The Pope will participate in the interreligious Conference in Abu Dhabi along with Jewish religious leaders as well as with the Grand Imam of the University of al-Azhar, Ahmed al Tayyeb.
Your Excellency, this meaningful, historic visit will take place in the Year of Tolerance established by local authorities. Is it a coincidence or was it planned?
It’s a happy coincidence. The Pope’s visit is a strong sign of the Year and it will be a historic moment because it’s the first-ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula.
For us, Christians and Catholic faithful, the visit is also a recognition of our presence.
It is largely believed that no Christian and Catholic faithful live in this region. But there is a thriving Church made of migrants. We count one million faithful in the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, more than a million and a half in the Northern Arabia.
Could this visit improve the perception of Christians in this land, make them be known more deeply?
I’m not a prophet. I don’t have an answer. What I know is that this visit could serve as an example to neighbouring Countries, like a sign to them that says: “Yes, we can.”Some things already appear to be changing: I refer to the freedom to celebrate Mass in the public arena, in the open. This too is a historic event…
In our daily life we are required to celebrate inside the churches we have been accorded. The Government, given the exceptionality of the Pope’s visit, wished to give us this opportunity. For the first time, on 5 February, Holy Mass will be celebrated in a public venue and local Muslims will be seated in the dedicated sector for government authorities and diplomats.
Opening a public venue for a non-Muslim religious celebration is extremely meaningful at a time when extremism and fundamentalism pose a threat to coexistence…
Pope Francis exhorts us to cross boundaries without fear and embrace the human person.
The challenge is to seek an agreement between all serious representatives, including religious leaders, representing the different faces of humanity. If only conflicts advance, humankind will be in great danger.What do you think of Abu Dhabi’s decision to recognize a feast day to workers in the private sector attending the Holy Mass of February 5?
We greatly appreciate this gesture. For all the workers that have a ticket for the celebration, February 5 will be considered a day’s paid leave.
What do you expect for your faithful from this Papal visit?
Great encouragement and impetus to avert depression, which is the greatest temptation that could lure our faithful, all of whom are migrant people who left their home countries. And most of all I pray that they may increasingly appreciate the Church as their homeland and their home. In fact, based on my experience of the past 15 years, for our faithful the few churches here are places where they feel at home, where they experience a feeling of belonging and ecclesial citizenship even though there are not citizens of this Country.
With his visit the Pope recognizes us and gives us new impetus.
Our hope is that ecclesial citizenship may correspond to veritable earthly citizenship, sheltered from extremisms and fundamentalism. We hope and pray for this.
Have you thought of a gift for Pope Francis?
We intend to give the Pope a sum of which we still don’t know the amount as it depends on the generosity of the faithful, in order to support his mission for the poor.