Vicar of Arabia: Christmas of a migrant church, witness and messenger of peace
For Msgr. Hinder the mystery of the incarnation "reveals a God in movement". In the parish of St. Joseph, 24 Masses will be celebrated in 14 different languages on the feast day. The commitment of young people in pastoral care, the still vivid memory of the journey of Pope Francis to the Emirates and a thought for Christians in the battered Yemen.
Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) - The mystery of the incarnation "reveals a God in movement", which in Christ "has become a migrant". For us, the migrant Church, "is a reason for joy, but also a commitment to make ourselves messengers of peace", says, Msgr. Paul Hinder, Apostolic vicar of southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen).
In a lengthy interview with AsiaNews he speaks of how the memory of Pope Francis' apostolic journey is still alive and continues to bear fruit. One of many? The possibility of celebrating "mass with more than 120 prisoners in a federal prison for the first time. For all the prisoners it was an early Christmas".
Encouraging signs have come from an area with a vast Muslim majority in terms of dialogue and discussion. In February, the Emirates was the first ever gulf nation to welcome a pontiff: over 120 thousand faithful attended Pope Francis' mass, for a momentous event re-proposed by one of the main local broadcasters in a documentary. The visit is joined by other major events, including the reopening of the oldest site, the inauguration of a new parish in Oman and a growing presence of lay people in the mission.
The apostolic vicariate of Southern Arabia includes the United Arab Emirates (Eau), Oman and Yemen, with a total surface area of approximately 929,000 km2. According to official statistics, out of a total of almost 43 million people, there are 999,000 Catholics. The territory is divided into 16 parishes; there are 18 diocesan priests, in addition to 49 other priests belonging to religious institutes and a permanent deacon living in the diocese. There are 50 active sisters in the area - and belonging to different orders - plus a lay brother.
Below Msgr. Hinder’s interview with AsiaNews:
Your Excellency, the community is preparing to celebrate the first Christmas since the Pope's visit. Is the memory still alive?
Certainly! Wherever I meet our faithful [the vast majority of migrant workers], as well as the emirates, the pontiff's pastoral journey left a deep impression. The fruits are felt above all in the most relaxed climate in relations with the authorities. Then there are progresses in our pastoral activities. I give an example: in these days I have celebrated for the first time in history the mass with more than 120 prisoners in a federal prison. For all the prisoners it was an early Christmas.
What are the most significant moments of these festive days?
The parishes have a consolidated program. For the nine days prior to Christmas, the Filipinos celebrate the mass of Simbag Gabi, in which about 7,000 faithful take part every evening in Abu Dhabi and 30,000 in Dubai. We know this from the number of distributed hosts. All the spaces, inside and outside, are overflowing. Then there are confessions, in the morning and in the evening.
Again, masses during the days of Christmas. Let me take, as an example, the parish of St. Joseph in Abu Dhabi: Christmas Eve, there will be three masses, because there would be no room for everyone with a single function. On Christmas day 24 masses will be celebrated: 10 in English, the other 14 in 13 different languages, starting in the morning at 4. The last mass will be at 8.30 pm in Tagalog (Filipino). During the day there is an open house in a large parish space where everyone, especially those without families, can eat, sing and celebrate.
Recently the young people have held an important meeting: what role do they have in the life of the vicariate?
Young people are engaged in all activities as much as possible, from the liturgy to the various initiatives in the pipeline, such as the aforementioned "open house", which organize the reception and presence of the many faithful who come to church or those who want to visit the nativity scene. They are always the ones who go to the "places of work" [where most of the Christian migrants are] to distribute gifts to the workers, organize the moments of prayer or set up the transport of the faithful themselves from the places of work to the church, and return.
Excellency, what message would you like to send to the Arabian community at Christmas?
The mystery of the incarnation reveals God in movement. God, in Jesus Christ, has literally become a migrant: he moves from heaven to earth, and here he is moving from one corner of the Holy Land to another, like us faithful migrants, this is also the essence of a migrant Church: we feel at ease knowing that God is with us and goes with us. Thus the Christmas story becomes our own story, a reason for joy but also a commitment to make ourselves messengers of peace.
The vicariate also includes Yemen: what does Christmas mean in this country ravaged by war, violence, poverty and disease?
We are still waiting for a sustainable truce and a just peace. Yemen remains without a priest even this Christmas. The sisters of Mother Teresa will certainly celebrate with the few Christians in their chapel. Even the few Catholics in Aden will gather to simply celebrate the birth of the son of God. They will not have the solemnity of the great parishes on the Gulf side. I am sure, however, that the Word who became flesh will also find himself in tortured Yemen and will give his signs of Prince of Peace.
The presence of the Pope strengthened the dialogue with Muslim leaders. Have you received any special wishes or messages in these days of preparation for the festivity?
Usually the greetings are addressed to in the days immediately preceding. Moreover, the government is present through the security that protects us in a discreet, but also nice way. The Department for Community Development (DCD, Department for Community Development) will even visit us to show everyone that the feast can be celebrated without problems.