Fr. Arun Raj Manuel comes from a family originally from Kerala. He was ordained priest by Msgr. Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia. "All my friends, Christians and Muslims, have encouraged me to follow my vocation". Muslim friends were present at his ordination ceremony "and I saw that they were happy." Abu Dhabi people say that "we Catholics are special." To bear witness to the Gospel "you do not need to do the brave, but to live in Christ."
Thiruvananthapuram (AsiaNews) - In Abu Dhabi, "I know for a fact, there are many non-Catholics who worship Christ! They recognize the beauty of Christian life, they come to church and pray in silence, especially in front of the grotto of Mary”, Fr. Arun Raj Manuel, priest of Indian origin, ordained recently in Abu Dhabi by Msgr. Paul Hinder tells AsiaNews.
Fr. Arun Raj is the first priest ordained in the United Arab Emirates along with Fr. Darick Paul D’Souza. For him, as for Fr. Darick, "the key moment for understanding my vocation was the installation of Msgr. Hinder. At that moment I knew I wanted to be a priest and serve others. " But then his friends, Christians and Muslims, urged him on to undertake the priestly path, because they had realized that "my decision was something special."
Fr. Arun Raj comes from a Catholic family that emigrated from Kerala to Abu Dhabi for work. When he realized that his desire was to become a priest, he was a young medical student and was preparing to discuss his thesis. "When I spoke of my vocation with Msgr. Paul Hinder, he understood me and encouraged me. "
However, he was encouraged "to go all the way" by his friends. "My friends - he continues - were amazed, but they realized that there was something special in my decision. I recognize that this decision is not for everyone, especially in the environment in which I lived. I asked myself: 'How can I reconcile my decision with today's world?' ".
The priest shares, the doubts, the questions that arose after his calling with AsiaNews. "Actually I had so many questions. I was wondering how I can be touched by the needs of people and at the same time remain linked to the reality around me. I was just a boy, used to traveling, seeing the world. "
Even today, he continues, "I have many friends, engineers, doctors, professionals, both Christians and Muslims. And they keep telling me is that they have recognized something extraordinary in my vocation. "
The priest speaks in particular of the reaction of Muslim friends, "When I informed them that I wanted to become a priest, there were very surprised. In Islamic tradition there is no real idea of the priesthood. The faithful study the Koran, but there is nothing similar to the Christian vocation. And many of them have come to Abu Dhabi to attend the ceremony of my ordination. They did not know what to expect, had never participated in a similar function, but they wanted to be present. When I became a priest I looked at them, and saw that they were happy. "
After the initial enthusiasm, the family’s reaction was more rational: "At first my parents told me to go ahead with my decision. But then they wondered what would happen to their child. And then they asked me to reflect. They told me: 'Do not jump to immediate conclusions, take your time!' ".
During his formative years in the parish of St. Joseph in Abu Dhabi, the priest says he was helped by so many people. "First of all the priest, Fr. Eugene Mattioli, and many other priests. I attended the seminar in Kerala, but when I returned for my holidays to the Emirate - two weeks in the summer - here I found f the affection and attention of the priests who saw me grow".
Fr. Arun Raj testifies that in the country, although of Muslim majority, religious communities live in harmony and tranquility. "The Catholic minority living in a very normal way, in Abu Dhabi we have no restrictions in the practice our faith. There are several churches and the neighbors are good people, everyone is respectful of others and the deities that every religious community loves. As a Catholic, I never felt unsafe in this city, the people are open and welcoming".
The priest continues with a reflection on the role of Christians: "Most of the people living in Abu Dhabi, are here to work. These are migrants who come from all over the world. Christians take care of all of them, feed them all. Our best way to witness to the Gospel in such a country is to live as Christians. We do not need to be brave, just witness the way we live the teachings of Jesus Christ. And we know that people say about us that we are 'special' because we live like Christ".
"I'm sure, I know - he adds - that there are many non-Christians who are influenced by the values of the Gospel Christ proclaimed. They also they love Christ, even if they are not Catholic! They do not come to Mass or to religious meetings, but they come to church and pray in silence, especially in front of the grotto of Mary. They feel God's love, the joy, peace of the Lord".
Today Fr. Arun Raj lives in Kerala, where he returned after the ordination ceremony. He is engaged in celebrating Masses in his parish in the diocese. In conclusion he shares with AsiaNews the excitement of when he celebrated the first Mass: "When I celebrated the first mass in Kerala I felt a strong sense of gratitude. God has blessed me with His mercy".