03/09/2023, 11.18
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Vicar of Arabia: An 'enriching' 'bond between Vatican and Oman

Archbishop Martinelli visited the sultanate, which established full relations with the Holy See at the end of February. A decision that opens the way to "greater cooperation initiatives" in a climate of great trust. The wish for a greater presence of priests and the opening of a women's institute. A Church of migrants that is very diverse internally, but united and participatory.

Mascate (AsiaNews) - The announcement, which came at the end of February, of "full" official relations between the Holy See and Mascate is "very positive news", at the basis of which there is a "bond" that can be "enriching for both", but above all for "the Church itself" present in Oman.

This is what Monsignor Paolo Martinelli, apostolic vicar of southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen), stresses to AsiaNews, commenting on the full diplomatic relations that will soon lead to the opening of a nunciature and an embassy in the respective territories.

"These official relations," the prelate continued, "will allow for greater cooperation initiatives" between the parties in a climate that is already one of great trust and collaboration.

Recounting the life of the local community, the Vicar of Arabia speaks of a "Church eager to contribute to the good of society" and, unlike other more complicated realities of the Gulf [i.e Saudi Arabia, where only Sunni Islam prevails], "we already enjoy freedom of worship".

Moreover, official relations with the Holy See 'may open up greater possibilities for collaboration,' he adds, 'even in terms of priests, of whom there are currently 12 in the area. 'We hope,' he adds, 'to be able to have a few more in the future'. 

Among Msgr. Martinelli's other objectives is also 'the possibility of having some female communities of consecrated life'. He warns, "this presence is very significant both for the faithful and for society" because of the contribution it can make in many fields. Together with religious freedom 'that we already have, it would be nice to be able to make a positive contribution' also 'through social and educational initiatives' as happens in many realities where the Church is present and active on the pastoral level.

Speaking of the Catholic community in Oman, the Vicar of Arabia defines it as having "substantially similar characteristics to that of the United Arab Emirates", even though the faithful, although "present in good numbers" are currently "fewer" than in the neighbouring country.

In the Sultanate, it is also a 'Church of migrants' because,only the Catholic community in Yemen is made up of 'natives' although battered by a disastrous and forgotten war . "The number of faithful in Oman," he continues, "is very variable" and is linked to opportunities "for work. For example, the time of the [Covid-19] pandemic forced many to leave the territory' precisely because of the lack of employment. 

There are four parishes in the sultanate: two in Mascate, the capital, one in Salalah and one in Sohar. They present a great variety at the community level, the prelate explains, because they are "made up of people from different nations, languages, cultures and rites" united, however, by a great desire to "participate" in the services, in which they are numerous, and "in the commitment in various parish works, associations and ecclesial movements". 

In order to grasp the strategic value of Oman in the region, at the level of the Church we often refer to the story of the kidnapping by a jihadist group in Aden, Yemen, of the Indian Salesian Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, who was freed after some time precisely thanks to the mediation of Muscat.

The sultanate is also fundamental in the balances between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two great regional powers divided economically, religiously and ideologically, representing the Sunni and Shiite world references par excellence. "Relations with local political leaders are very good at the moment" ,' underlines Mgr. Martinelli and are marked by 'kindness, they are ready to help us when we have any need."

Lastly, he wants to emphasise the role of Pope Francis and his "attention" to the Arab region in strengthening relations in the Gulf and with the Muslim world, starting with his trips to Abu Dhabi and Bahrain. "His relentless promotion of inter-religious dialogue and peace," he concludes, "has played a role in reaching this historic moment in which Oman and the Holy See are establishing stable diplomatic relations."

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