Vicar of Arabia: beyond Covid, open churches and Christmas together
70 masses are scheduled in the Abu Dhabi compound from December 24 to 26. Complex procedures and health restrictions, such as the ban on choir singing, but the celebrations will be attended. For the future? The challenge of the post-pandemic social pastoral care of the new coronavirus. The "courageous" Pope Francis travelling to Iraq to relaunch dialogue with Islam.
Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – Despite restrictions, closures and limits to celebrations and events, "Christians in Arabia will have open churches, while complying with the rules set by the government. To give an idea: from the morning of the 24th to the evening of the 26th we will have 70 masses in the Abu Dhabi compound, according to a detailed and structured health and safety program," says the Apostolic vicar of southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen) Msgr. Paul Hinder.
Since April the prelate is also apostolic administrator of the vacant seat of northern Arabia (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain) following the death of Msgr. Camillo Ballin.
He continues: “The procedures are complex and articulated, because the places must be sanitized each time and the faithful have to go through special scanners for detecting body temperature. However, it will be a Christmas together and participatory".
“The celebrations will take place in the cathedral, in the church of Santa Teresa and in a hall above the church of Santa Teresa, which we have used as a place of worship. We will always have three at the same time, to ensure maximum participation even in the face of contingent admissions and maintaining the live streaming on television and online, on social networks, to involve even those who are unable to move ".
The request was such, he continues, that "once the program was defined, we saw that there was a need for two more masses. Hence the reopening of the registration system which, in less than two hours, sold out. This is certainly a sign of the willingness of the Christians of Arabia to participate, many who are waiting to return to mass and receive the sacrament in a worthy way ".
Bishop Hinder then addresses a thought to the many who "will not be able to come to church" who just like Joseph and Mary who "found no space in the inn" and have taken refuge in a manger with the ox and the donkey. To all the prelate launches an invitation to "follow the celebrations online" on television or on social networks "looking forward to the day when you can physically join the community again".
The new coronavirus pandemic has modified, but not upset, some passages of the celebrations. “We are not allowed to sing, to use the great choirs - underlines Msgr. Hinder - except for a small group in the cathedral. Perhaps some faithful will sing from behind the masks, but these are some of the limits imposed by the health authorities in the public sphere”.
"Compared to the past - continues the prelate who in recent days received the Chinese-made anti-Covid-19 vaccine administered in recent weeks in the Emirates - people will not be able to stay in the compound at the end of the mass". Christmas day was "an opportunity to meet, to visit the Nativity Scene but this year it will not be possible, just as we will not be able to organize a community lunch for people alone or without families".
The condition of the Christian community of Arabia, overwhelmingly made up of migrant workers, has been severely impacted by the pandemic. “Many - says Msgr. Hinder - have lost their jobs, others have already returned to their countries of origin or have stayed and are in great difficulty. I do not know what developments will be in the coming months, but it is clear that the Church will have to review and update its commitment and its pastoral program, taking into account these renewed needs”.
One last thought Msgr. Hinder addresses it "to the brave" Pope Francis, who will go to Iraq in March. An absolute first, which follows the historic apostolic journey to Abu Dhabi in February 2019. "We can speak - concludes the vicar - of continuity with the previous visit and of a further effort in establishing relations of mutual esteem and understanding with Islam. Furthermore, for the Chaldean and non-Chaldean Christians of the country, who have lived through many difficult years, it will be a great source of encouragement”.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Yemen, for a total area of approximately 929,000 km2. According to official statistics, out of a total of almost 43 million people, there are 999 thousand Catholics. The territory is divided into 16 parishes; there are 18 diocesan priests, in addition to another 49 priests belonging to religious institutes and a permanent deacon who lives in diocese. There are about fifty sisters active in the area, belonging to different orders.