Vicar of Arabia: Easter among immigrants, where popular faith is a sign of catholicity

Thousands of faithful flock to the churches for the rites of Holy Week. The celebrations are an opportunity for the community to meet in a context characterized by a "popular faith, peculiarities and different traditions". Msgr. Hinder: pastoral care of migrants is a priority theme, fundamental to sharing in their joys and sorrows.


Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) - The celebrations of Holy Week and Easter are "opportunities of encounter" for a community composed almost exclusively by immigrants that lives the rites [confessions, Masses, Via Crucis] "with a popular faith, impregnated with the influence of their origins ", recounts Msgr Paul Hinder to AsiaNews. The apostolic vicar of southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen) describes a climate of expectation and participation ahead of the climax the holidays. "Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian - he explains - have a different style compared to Filipinos, Indians. However, this difference creates faith filled atmosphere and is witness to true catholicity ... Thousands of people with different peculiarities and traditions ".

About one million faithful, all of foreign nationality, live in the southern Arabian region. The most important community is the Filipino one, followed by Indian Catholics, mainly from Kerala. The rest of the Church is made up of Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians and Jordanians who have come to the region for work.

Thanks to the freedom of worship granted by the emirates of the Persian Gulf, the life of the Church is very active and is organized around seven parishes in the United Arab Emirates, four parishes in Oman with about 18 thousand faithful and a small community in Yemen, which wreaked by violence. 55 priests work in churches and Catholic schools dedicated to migrants.

"The Arabian Church is a living Church - underlines Msgr. Hinder, a Franciscan of Swiss origin - and the places of worship are crowded with believers. Several Catholics from the West, having encountered this reality, say that it is an antidepressant and a source of vigour and warmth ". Last week at the evening masses there were on average, "a thousand faithful, singing and praying, a sign of profound faith".

In these days the Christians have crowded the confessionals for the sacrament of penance. Until 9.30 in the evening, 5 or 6 priests in every church in Abu Dhabi welcomed thousands of people "wishing to go through the confessional", said Mgr. Hinder. From the feast of St. Joseph, patron of the cathedral in the capital of the Emirates, to the Palm Sunday Mass, the celebrations attracted entire communities, even from remote places. Despite the concerns of everyday life, from the employment crisis to fears over an uncertain future, people "do not want to miss the weekly appointment with Mass".

The priests of the entire vicariate are expected to attend the Chrism Mass on Thursday, even if some from Oman cannot be present. For Good Friday and Holy Saturday there will be double celebrations to cater to high attendance. "Otherwise - underlines the vicar - it would not be possible to welcome everyone". Security remains an issue: "The authorities are attentive - he adds – and discreetly keep watch of Christian places of worship, to prevent any kind of violence".

The pastoral care of migrants, a subject dear to Pope Francis, remains the priority for the vicar of southern Arabia and for priests and nuns operating throughout the territory. "They need material and spiritual comfort - he says - both those who have moved with their families and have to struggle to survive, and those who are alone, living in the compounds they work in and it is not always easy to reach them". "For us men of the Church - concludes Msgr. Hinder - it is essential to be ready to listen to their joys and sorrows, to encourage them to share the Easter message of resurrection. "(DS)

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