05/05/2022, 12.14
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New Vicar of Arabia: 'Faithful' to the Mission, with the 'Courage' of the Sisters of Aden

by Dario Salvi

The auxiliary of Milan, Msgr. Paolo Martinelli, replaces Msgr. Hinder in southern Arabia, who resigned having reached the age of retirement. A breath of vision that "embraces all Christians" and a particular "concern" for Yemen. The "historical" value of the document on Brotherhood, keeping its "memory alive". A "different" migrant Church, but part of "one people".  


Milan (AsiaNews) - The first thought, upon learning of the appointment, "went to Yemen" because if the pastoral commitment "embraces all Christians and different realities", the situation of the Republic and its inhabitants, priests and nuns who "with courage" have remained is a source of particular concern. Mgr. Paolo Martinelli, newly appointed Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen), replacing Mgr. Paul Hinder, who resigned due to age limit, looks with admiration "at the nuns of Mother Teresa of Calcutta" who chose to "remain in the region, even though they knew the risks they ran. However - he tells AsiaNews - fidelity to a mission to be carried out with love, with pure charity, remaining close to disabled people who needed their help prevailed." 

The reference of the prelate, from May 2014 to today auxiliary of Milan, is to the tragedy that struck the religious in Aden on March 4, 2016, when their home for the elderly and needy was attacked by a jihadist group. In the assault four nuns (photo 2) and 12 other people were killed "for reasons of faith", in addition to the kidnapping of the Indian Salesian Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil then released after more than a year of imprisonment thanks to the mediation of Oman. "Their thought - underlines Msgr. Martinelli - has been recurrent and dominant, a spirit that gives me the strength to embrace this new mission. Since the day the appointment was made official [last May 1, ed] I always carry with me, in a pocket of my habit, an image of the religious." 

The new vicar was born in Milan on October 22, 1958, and 20 years later he entered the Capuchin Friars Minor of the Province of St. Charles in Lombardy. Ordained a priest in September 1985, he has taught theology in several pontifical universities. On May 24, 2014, he was appointed auxiliary of Milan, and on June 28 of the same year, he was consecrated in the city's cathedral, where he held numerous positions including episcopal vicar for consecrated life and Catholic schools, as well as delegate of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) for consecrated life and healthcare. 

In the coming months he will take possession of a Church in a particular reality, which embraces Yemen, the Emirates and Oman, for a total of about one million baptized people, equal to 2.3% of a population with a very large Muslim (Sunni) majority. In which Catholics are almost exclusively migrants from Asia (Philippines, India, Bangladesh) or Africa, distributed over a territory of over 900,000 km2. In which he will pick up the baton of Msgr. Hinder, among the architects of the historic joint signature of the pope (Francis) and the imam (of al-Azhar Al-Tayyeb) to the document on "Human Brotherhood". 

The text, notes Msgr. Martinelli, has a "historical" value and it is "the task of us who work in that land" that hosted the signature "to keep its memory alive." It is a "prophetic" act generated by the meeting "of two enlightened men", which cannot remain isolated and extemporary "but must keep us awake". The objective is to "continue to deepen the message" and bring out "all the implications of that gesture" on a cultural, social, interreligious and economic level. It is "an integral part of the plural character of this land" and is important "not only on a geopolitical level," but must be capable of "embracing different realities." 

The bishop welcomed the appointment "with great serenity and enthusiasm" and is ready to bring with him to the new mission the work done in the diocese of Milan where both Card. Scola before, and Archbishop Delpini today, "have promoted the value of the encounter between different cultures". The capital of Lombardy, he said, "is an extraordinary place" of experiences and people and now he will be called upon to "expand the knowledge gained so far".

He also counted on the common affiliation to the Capuchins that characterizes his predecessors in the land of Arabia, from Msgr. Hinder to Msgr. Giovanni Bernardo Gremoli. "Out of about 70 priests in the vicariate," he observed, "at least 45 come from the order of Friars Minor. In these weeks of preparation, one of the priorities will be to deepen the knowledge of the territory, of a "composite and ethnically very diverse" reality, to which instill "the awareness of being one people, of being part of the Church, of a closeness to the mystery, of the ecclesial consciousness... the intercultural value of faith." "To the Christians of that land and to the faithful of Islam - he concludes - I want to send a message of greeting, especially to those - priests, nuns, lay people - who are active on the level of pastoral care." 

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