By Devin Watkins
While in Bahrain, the Pope met with Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, with whom he signed the Document on Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi in 2019.
Speaking to Emirates News Agency – WAM, Bishop Paolo Martinelli picked up the theme of interreligious dialogue and human fraternity.
“It is a magnificent text. I have reread it countless times,” said the Italian-born Bishop about the Document on Human Fraternity. “I feel it my duty to contribute to make it better known and spread it widely. It opens a new perspective, in which religious dialogue is not only doctrinal.”
The Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia said the Document and the idea of fraternity can help peoples come to know one another better and build a better world.
“There is a strong idea that violence in the name of God cannot be sustained,” he said. “Religions, all religions, can help the world become more humane. This is the message that the Document entrusts to us.”
Cultural and religious richness
Pope Francis appointed Bishop Martinelli as the Vicar Apostolic for the UAE, Yemen, and Oman in May 2022, and he picked up the reigns of the Apostolic Vicariate on 2 July.
The Bishop said he received “a very warm welcome” on the part of local Catholics in the UAE, as well as from everyone else in the country.
“There is a great richness, cultural and religious, in the country,” said Bishop Martinelli. “In the very first days I met the local authorities and several ambassadors. Now I am touring all nine parishes that offer service to about one million faithful, all migrants, distributed in the Vicariate, most of them in the Emirates. The parishes are fascinating places of interactions.”
There are around 70 priests serving in the Apostolic Vicariate, of whom 45 are Capuchins.
Tolerance, said the Bishop, has an important place in Emirati society.
“We live in an era in which the world is mixing up, and in the UAE ‘mixing up’ is the rule, a lifestyle,” he said. “This idea of tolerance, as hospitality and coexistence, is a pillar of the country.”
St. Francis of Assisi and his encounter comes to mind when considering the relationship between Christians and Muslims, added Bishop Martinelli. “St. Francis teaches us that we can learn from one another,” he said.
Regarding his new mission, the Bishop said he wants to first “listen, observe, and learn” in order to get to know the Catholics of the region better.
But even after these few short months, Bishop Martinelli has been impressed with the vibrancy of Catholics living in the region, most of whom are expat workers from India, the Philippines, and elsewhere.
“It astonishes me to see churches crowded, even early in the morning during the week,” he said. “I also see a lot of youth. I come from Milan, from a very secularised society. I am struck by the request to be blessed, even if only with a simple gesture. This recognition for the Shepherd who is a sign of Jesus is so genuine and spontaneous. It’s beautiful.”