Milan (AsiaNews) - "Our faith is stronger here than at home." The words of Nila Bandigan Sanchez, a Filipino immigrant in Abu Dhabi, effectively summarize the spirit of a Church that is as surprising many, the church in the Persian Gulf. It is an "unexpected" but highly relevant Church; while the Middle East is witnessing a more or less dramatic exodus of Christians, the number of followers of Jesus is continually growing in these lands. The Vicariate of Arabia, with its three million square kilometres is the largest in the world (it comprises the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen) and is home to millions Christians : according to official figures they represent, across the different countries, between seven and ten percent of the population but simple empirical calculations suggest that they exceed 30 percent of population in the UAE.
In fact the latest edition of Mondo e Missione, PIME monthly magazine , has dedicated a special report to the "Church of the Gulf", due out on the eve of the Synod for the Middle East convened by Pope Benedict XVI for this October. A report, authored by Chiara Zappa, drawing her experiences in the Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, in search of the stories and voices of the many Christians from different countries and diverse cultures that inhabit the land of the sheikhs. Christians such as Danny Jose, 26, a native of Kerala and charismatic young leader of a group in Abu Dhabi and guest, so to speak, of one of the notorious labour camps where the workers who build the skyscrapers of the Emirates are living without rights. But just like Sister Magdalene, in her clinic in Dubai, he is a witness to the suffering and expectations that permeate the great "city of illusions."
Members of a precarious Church on "probation" - practice and religious symbols are limited to the narrow confines of the parishes - but full of energy, says vicar of Arabia, the Swiss Capuchin Paul Hinder: 'Our communities are lively and enthusiastic despite the obstacles and difficulties, we are a challenge to the West". For Mgr. Camillo Ballin, an Italian Comboni, vicar of Kuwait, "the fact that millions of Christians live in a land sacred to Islam is in itself an important testimony: we are called to be leaven in the bread".
Indeed part of the Mondo e Missione special report focuses on attempts to establish an encounter and dialogue between Christians and Muslims, including the thoughts of the grand mufti of Dubai and the spokesman for Dicid, the International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue of Doha, the most important reality of this kind in the region.