02/24/2023, 15.11
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Migrants and Fr Tom’s abduction link Oman and the Vatican

The Holy See and Oman established full diplomatic relations yesterday, opening their respective nunciature and embassy. Their aim is to promote “mutual understanding and further strengthening friendship and cooperation”. The local multi-ethnic Church must maintain communal ties.

Muscat (AsiaNews) – The Vatican and Oman announced full diplomatic relations yesterday, based on the Vienna Convention of 1961, with an apostolic nunciature in Oman and an embassy at the Holy See.

It its communiqué, the Vatican explains that the goal is to promote “mutual understanding and further strengthening friendship and cooperation between the Holy See and Oman” while serving the “common interests of the” two parties, based on the “principles of sovereign equality, independence, territorial integrity and non-interference”.

With Oman, the the Holy See can now count on having diplomatic relations with 184 states, including all those in the Arabian Peninsula, except for Saudi Arabia.

Located in the south-eastern part of the region, the Sultanate of Oman is divided into 11 governorates and 61 provinces. Like many countries in the region, its economy is based on natural resources, especially natural gas, and tourism.

Arabs constitute the majority of its population of about 4 and a half million, with a significant percentage of foreign workers from other Middle Eastern countries, as well as the Philippines, India and Pakistan.

About 86 per cent are Muslim, while Christians are around 6.5 per cent or about 300,000 (70 per cent Catholic, 13 per cent Orthodox, 6 per cent Protestant, 11 per cent others).

Almost all Christians are foreign workers from other Asian nations, particularly the Philippines and India, and live in large towns and cities, like the capital Muscat as well as Sohar and Salalah.

Politically, Oman has sought to maintain a balance between Shi‘a Iran and its Sunni neighbours, like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Qatar. The latter have been involved in a proxy war in Yemen and elsewhere in the region.

In the past, Oman was praised by the Vatican for helping to secure the release of Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian Salesian, who was held hostage in Aden (Yemen) by jihadis after they attacked a locale home run by the Missionaries of Charity.

Oman comes under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicariate of South Arabia (UAE, Yemen and Oman). Based in Abu Dhabi, it is headed by Bishop Paolo Martinelli, and is divided into four parishes and has 12 resident priests.

The Vatican note ends by expressing hope that "with the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Holy See, the Catholic Church in Oman, through its priests and religious, can continue to contribute to the social well-being of the Sultanate."

In late March 2022, the then vicar of Southern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder, celebrated the first priestly ordination in the local Church.

Speaking to AsiaNews at the time, he spoke about the local “migrant" community made up of Indian, Filipino, European, American and African workers, whose strong “community spirit” should prevent them from turning inward and becoming ethnocentric or nationalistic.

Like in all Gulf countries, “the challenge is to respect the [pastoral] needs of each”, starting with language, while maintaining communal ties even if "it is not always easy” to pursue this goal.

The first locally ordained priest, Fr Dickson Eugene, belongs to the Salesian province of Bangalore, but was raised in Oman. Since his ordination, he has been able to celebrate scores of confirmations and organise a meeting with all the priests, to discuss future challenges.

One of those challenges, Bishop Hinder noted, was joblessness among migrants, especially after the Omani government “launched a policy aimed at encouraging the employment of locals”, resulting on migrants leaving.

This has had a negative impact on local parishes; yet, they are still surviving even though their “numbers [. . .] are visibly decreasing”.

Hence, it becomes essential to find jobs and provide training and catechesis to young people. “This is also a problem that the local Church is called to address.”

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Dialogue and fraternity, part of Bishop Martinelli’s mission in the Vicariate of S Arabia
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