Doha Christians mourn the death of Bishop Ballin, Vicar of northern Arabia

The prelate died on Easter Sunday after a long illness. Doha Catholics highlight his life "spent in the service of God" and the way he bore his illness “with faith". He knew how to develop a "young and active" Church. Bahrain’s new cathedral was his final major project for the region’s Christians.

Doha (AsiaNews) – Catholics in Persian Gulf countries are mourning the death of Bishop Camillo Ballin, Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain). The prelate passed away at the Comboni Generalate in Rome, a few weeks shy of 76th birthday, on Easter Sunday following a long illness.

The Italian-born prelate was a leading Church figure in the mostly Muslim Gulf region. In a note sent to AsiaNews, Doha Catholics underlined his “life spent entirely in the service of God" and his illness, which he “carried with faith” and led him “into the glory of paradise”.

The funeral of "our beloved bishop" who died on the day "when Christ the Lord rose again defeating death" will be celebrated by the Comboni Missionaries in Rome, but more ceremonies and services are also planned in mission territories.

Archbishop Ballin was born on 24 June 1944 in Fontaniva, Padua (Italy), a town that falls within the Diocese of Vicenza. He first entered the Vicenza seminary, then began his novitiate with the Comboni Congregation in 1963 where he made his perpetual profession on 9 September 1968.

He took his priestly vows the following year, on 30 March 1969, in Castelleto sul Garda (Verona). In 1970 he was sent to Lebanon and Syria to study Arabic. He began his apostolate at the St Joseph Latin parish in Zamalek, a district in Cairo (Egypt), where he remained as parish priest until 1977.

Afterwards he studied for three years at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome before returning to Egypt in 1981 to teach at the Institute of Theology in Cairo and serve as Provincial Superior of the Comboni Missionaries.

He was in Sudan from 1990 until 1997 when he returned to Rome. In 2000, he was back in Egypt to head the Dar Comboni Centre of Arab and Islamic Studies in Cairo.

A great scholar and expert of the Muslim world, he authored several books and research papers, including in Arabic. One of them, a History of the Church in Arabic, traces the history of the Church, from its origins to the 15th century, with particular focus on the Arab lands and Eastern Churches.

On 14 July 2005, then Pope Benedict XVI appointed him Apostolic Vicar of Kuwait. Later, on 31 May 2011, he was made Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia (with In Verbo Tuo as his motto).

In the region, he continued the work of meeting and engaging Muslim leaders in dialogue as well as and promoting the development of Christian communities.

During Pope Francis' visit to the United Arab Emirates, a first for the region, Bishop Ballin stressed that the event could be a “source of encouragement” for Christians in the region, despite some critical issues.

He also spoke out when tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar were at their maximum, since the situation also touched local Catholics. On several occasions, he praised the "young and active" local community “at the service of divided and distant families”.

Bahrain’s new cathedral was his last gift to Christians in the region, "the heart of the Catholic community in Arabia".