Fr Dominique, new bishop of Teheran, seeks unity among Christians, dialogue with Shia Islam
Pope Francis appointed the Belgian religious as archbishop of Teheran-Ispahan of the Latins, after years of sede vacante. He will be consecrated on 16 February in Rome, on the feast day of St Maruthas. He appeals to Catholics around the world to nurture “contact and bond” with Iranian Catholics.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis Mathieu on 8 January appointed Fr Dominique Mathieu as the new Archbishop of Teheran-Ispahan of the Latins. In an interview with AsiaNews, the new prelate outlined the objectives of his apostolate: unity and fraternal care between Catholics in Iran and the universal Church; “contact and bond with them”; nourishing the “dream of living universal brotherhood, in mutual respect” between Christians and Muslims, including Shias, after the steps taken with Sunnis; and keeping “the historical presence of Christians alive and lively”.
The Belgian-born religious belongs to the Provincial Custody of the East and of the Holy Land of the Friars Minor Conventual. Currently Definitor General of the Order, he will be consecrated on 16 February, the feast day of St Maruthas, patron saint of Iran, in the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles in Rome.
Fr Mathieu was born on 13 June 1963 in Arlon, Belgium. After his high school studies, he entered the Order of Friars Minor Conventual and made his solemn profession in 1987. He was ordained priest on 24 September 1989 and was incardinated in the Provincial Custody of the East and of the Holy Land in 2013.
Over the years he has held various positions: vocation promoter, secretary, vicar and provincial minister of the Belgian Province of the Friars Minor Conventual, rector of the National Shrine of Saint Anthony of Padua in Brussels and director of the associated Confraternity.
About 22,000 Catholics (and about 500,000 Christians) live in Iran out of a population of almost 82 million inhabitants, mostly Shias Muslims (90 per cent). Sunnis are just over 5 per cent. Christians include Chaldeans and Armenians of the Latin rite, as well as Europeans and Latin Americans who work in the Islamic Republic.
According to the Iranian Constitution (Article 13) Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews are free to worship “within the limits” of (Islamic) law. Christians have representatives in the Iranian Parliament (Majlis).
Here is the interview with the new archbishop of Teheran-Ispahan:
Fr Mathieu, how do you see your apostolate in the new Iranian reality?
Like that of a good shepherd, who must gather the faithful around the Incarnate Word in communion with the universal Church, so that they may be more and more a living leaven in the mix of a people; a reality made up of people of high culture who, by their very nature, value the host.
And the main challenges of the new mission?
Keeping the historical presence of Christians alive and lively.
What will be the foundations on which to base such apostolate?
First of all, trust in God, who remains faithful to his promises. To this is added the good will to collaborate, everywhere and in all circumstances, to make him visible with one's life.
Have you already become acquainted with Tehran and the local Christian community?
I got to know and discover the local reality through the testimonies of those who lived there and those who passed through. I believe the faithful expect to see Jesus' promise concretely realised when he said ascending to heaven: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” They desire to live his Word and celebrate the sacraments, guided by a pastor with an open heart and charitable in deeds. May it be a living and visible sign for every person.
On the matter of Christian unity, what do you expect? Will there be collaboration, even in light of a numerically small group?
I expect to recognise that like the apostles, despite our particularities, we shall be moved by the one and only Holy Spirit, who sends us to proclaim that we are all brothers in him.
What can you tell us about relations with Muslims? Will the pope’s apostolic visit to Iraq be important even for Iranian Christians, especially with respect to the relationship with Shias?
The last encyclical of Pope Francesco, Fratelli tutti, indicates the path for dialogue and gives its tone. In this regard, the coming trip to Iraq adds a concrete act to the word. A stop in Najaf, a holy city for Iraqi Shias, is under consideration, with a possible meeting with their spiritual leader, Ali Al-Sistani, and the signing of the Abu Dhabi document reflect the relationship. [This gesture] would keep alive, even in Iran, the dream of living universal brotherhood, in mutual respect.
Christians in Iran complain of a certain of isolation from the universal Church. What can we do in the West, in this sense, to be closer to Iranian Christians?
For Catholics of the Latin rite, the appointment of a new archbishop after a few years of sede vacante has had a positive response. That decision is a mature response by the Holy See to reach out to Roman Catholics in an extreme edge of the world with the gift of a pastor, a conventual friar minor. I would tell Catholics in the West and in the world: Show them your fraternal attention and pray to God for their intentions; finally, contact and bond with them as much as possible.