05/16/2024, 13.04
Send to a friend

Vicar of Arabia: the jurisdiction of the Syro-Malabars and the 'challenge' to the beauty of unity

by Dario Salvi

Bishop Aldo Berardi, head of the vicariate that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, comments on Pope Francis' decision to grant the Syro-Malabar Church jurisdiction over Indian migrants. "This is not a secondary element, it concerns areas that go beyond rituals" and will have to be defined. The problem of places of worship, relations with the State and interlocution with the Muslim world. "Too many voices" can create "confusion".

Milan (AsiaNews) - Unity always remains "the challenge" because "it is a source of beauty" even if "it costs effort", especially in the face of "the uniqueness of each rite" connected to the different communities that make up the local Church. This is what Monsignor Aldo Berardi, apostolic vicar of northern Arabia, a priest of the  Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives, of which he was vicar general for over a year, has underlined to AsiaNews.

He has been at the head of a territory that includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. A reality composed largely of economic migrants from various Asian nations, particularly India, and different rites, one of which is affected by the decision - announced in recent days by Pope Francis - to grant the Syro-Malabars jurisdiction over those who find themselves working in the Middle East (the vast majority in the vicariates of North and South Arabia). 

"For years, the only local, Latin bishop," explains Bishop Berardi, "had to promote all rites and respond to the demands and needs" of each community. The first to define the issue was John Paul II, who had entrusted the apostolic vicariate "with the task of promoting all rites", then in 2006 "Benedict XVI began to speak of greater autonomy".

In 2020 a further change "to entrust jurisdiction to the Eastern Patriarchs". In recent years we have given priests the pastoral care of different rites, to 'respond to the demands and needs of each reality'.

This meant, the prelate added, that 'to maintain unity around the Latin bishop, the Eastern-rite priests had to adapt' in terms of catechesis, celebrations, and sacraments. This is also true for the Syro-Malabars who today have 16 priests [Capuchin religious] in the vicariate.

On 13 May, receiving in audience a delegation led by the new Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil, the Pontiff publicly expressed his assent to a request made for years by the Churches of the East, especially for their faithful in the Persian Gulf.

The Syro-Malabar Church will therefore have jurisdiction over the Indian migrants belonging to this rite who live in the region, although the issue as Pope Bergoglio emphasised must be defined at a later date "also through the charters, but as of today you can". The request for jurisdiction is an issue that has been posed for years by the Eastern Catholic Churches for the hundreds of thousands of migrants, a mosaic of languages and rites hitherto led by the two Apostolic Vicariates of Latin-rite Arabia. 

The issue is not only religious, but also has a social implication, just think of the celebration of marriage and its civil recognition. From the Syro-Malabars to the Maronites, from the Coptic Catholics to the Melkites "we meet for festive moments", the vicar emphasises.

'On the one hand there is the risk of being too independent,' he warns, 'but on the other hand we have worked to maintain unity, while respecting the different Eastern realities. "They are using our [Latin] churches to celebrate Mass because they cannot do so outside of the permitted and recognised places of worship, as stipulated by local laws. At this stage, for example, we are drawing up a canonical agreement with the Maronites on marriages, which should also be an example for the other rites" in the vicariate. 

Msgr. Berardi acknowledges that at the moment, there is a phase of "uncertainty" following the pope's decision, which, as he pointed out, will have to be defined "on paper". "We must wait for indications," the prelate continues, "from the dicastery for the Oriental Churches, from the Secretariat of State. Then with the major archbishop we will make assessments on how to integrate new priests, because it already seems that they want to send diocesans from India. We are in a middle phase, the question of responsibility before the authorities and the various States will also have to be defined, because in the last indications of Pope Francis it was the Apostolic Vicariate that had to maintain these relations and no other Catholic Church sui iuris has legal personality and will still have to depend for some time on the Vicariate for visas, places of worship, etc.".

'As far as the Syro-Malabars are concerned,' he emphasises, 'our interlocutor will be the major archbishop, we cannot discuss with the individual dioceses. I had already planned a trip to India in July and now it will be even more urgent, so will Mar Raphael Thattil visiting the Gulf and getting to know the service we offer to the faithful of his rite'.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia extends its jurisdiction over four States of the Peninsula, with different situations on a social, political and religious freedom level: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the latter nation in which no other cult is allowed except Islam but in which there is - although not officially - a Christian presence.

In 2020, at the death of the last vicar, Msgr Camillo Ballin, who was succeeded as administrator by Msgr Paul Hinder - formerly vicar of Southern Arabia - there were almost 2.8 million baptised people out of a population of around 43 million. The territory is divided into 11 parishes, the seat is in Bahrain, in Awali, where the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia is located.

The challenge remains that of unity, as a Catholic Church and in front of States, each with its own style. And for the different rites, the definition of a hierarchy and of places, of spaces, because they are limited: from the exarchate of the Melkites to the Maronites who were planning to build a church in Qatar as the future home of the patriarchal vicar, an idea that is currently frozen. And again, the jurisdiction over the sacraments: "If a Chaldean faithful marries an Armenian," underlines Mgr Berardi, "it must be decided who celebrates, which rite, the nulla osta of the respective patriarchs, the canonical agreement for the validity of the sacraments... important elements to define. Then there is also the issue of civil recognition' and 'the relationship with the Muslim authority, which in relating needs to know who the reference is'.

Too many voices, and too many heads, risk creating confusion given that until now the person in charge before the State was, and is, the Latin bishop.

Lastly, the prelate reflects on his first year at the helm of the northern vicariate: "I arrived in a difficult situation with the death of the bishop [Ballin], the Covid-19 which greatly limited the administrator's [Hinder] movements and the pastoral care of the parishes. The first job was to organise the vicariate economically and administratively, sort out the documents, an important and necessary step to be clear and transparent'.

"We are in a phase of restructuring," he concludes, "because each country is different, but we must find a general vision for all, followed by a concrete application that is different, with limitations and internal conflicts. What is important to us is to always maintain unity'. 

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
More migrants drown off Yemen’s coast
11/08/2017 20:05
Syro-Malabars to observe 'uniform rite' from 28 November
28/08/2021 10:32
Delhi, Syro-Malabars pray amidst the rubble of a destroyed church (VIDEO)
16/07/2021 13:04
Gulf Council backs UAE against Iran
Indian bishops: most Hindus are secular, but there are aggressive and intolerant minorities
03/03/2016 17:11


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”