The signing of the "prophetic" document on human fraternity by the pope and the imam of al-Azhar two years ago has favored "a more serene climate" and made inroads "in various fields", although difficult to assess the effect on the real life of individuals, “observes Msgr. Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen) and apostolic administrator of the vacant see of northern Arabia (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain).
"Today this text - continues the prelate - is part of teaching in Catholic schools" and has "opened up new areas of encounter and exchange not only between religions, but also between different segments of a society made up of 80 per cent of migrants ".
Tomorrow marks the two years since the signing of the historic document which has opened new channels of dialogue and confrontation with the Muslim world, especially the Sunni one. An event that will be celebrated in conjunction with the International Day of Human Fraternity, a virtual event promoted by Sheikh Mohammed Ben Zayed in Abu Dhabi with the participation of the pontiff, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb and the UN secretary general António Guterres. For many, the hope is that Francis' next trip to Iraq and the rumors ofa personal meeting with the great Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani can serve to strengthen dialogue also with the Shiite world.
One of the fruits of the pope's visit, in February 2019, is the decision by the Emirati authorities to build the Abrahamic Family Home, a place of learning, dialogue and worship for the faithful of different religions.
"Work has begun" confirms Msgr. Hinder, who will go to visit it as soon as possible. “Today relations with the government and the ministers in charge of our affairs - he continues - are very good. Since the pope's visit, they have shown themselves to be attentive and open "to the needs of Christians, keeping" attention to security "high even if this has led to greater - and inevitable - control over activities.
"The common thought - underlines the vicar of Arabia - is that it is important to pay attention not only to local and regional problems, with the awareness that we are all in the same boat as the pope says. The problems are not only of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or atheists but they are fundamental questions for everyone. This should help us open up to others, without losing our own identity. From time to time I see this concern in Catholics, but if we are convinced and firm in our faith we must not be afraid to go out to meet Muslims”.
Two years after the signing, "it is still too early to understand the impact on the lives of Christians, mostly migrants" from other Asian nations. Certainly, warns the prelate, the apostolic journey and the document "have helped to guarantee greater rights, at least at the level of laws because in practice it is not always easy to verify their implementation. However, the considerable efforts made in this direction should be emphasized - he adds - such as the recent decision to extend citizenship. Here, too, it is necessary to understand how many will benefit and to which bracket they belong, as has already happened in the past in Bahrain and Qatar”.
“In the last 12 months characterized by the global pandemic - says Msgr. Hinder - the public life of Christians was suspended, especially due to the closure of churches. For some time now, at least in Abu Dhabi, we have reopened, albeit with limits and restrictions. People have suffered greatly from these closures and the distance, even if we have tried to do everything to keep the bond and relationships with the faithful alive. What is missing most are the sacraments, the Eucharist, confessions and even house visits were difficult".
In the critical context of Covid-19, however, “important gestures emerge that confirm renewed solidarity, with aid for those who really suffered from hunger. Many workers, due to the interruption of contracts and wages, were unable to have sufficient food to survive and hence the renewed push for solidarity ", which embraced" not only Christians ".
What about the future? "In terms of numbers - concludes the Arabian road --the community will be fewer because many have returned to their countries of origin after losing their jobs. But the challenge remains on a spiritual level, we still need to provide material and psychological support. Ours was one Sacramental Church, which must however be capable of satisfying the spiritual, social and human needs of a people in difficulty”.