Bishop Hinder: ‘Situation for 30 million in Yemen is critical’
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Bishop Paul Hinder, who had served for more than a decade as Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia and whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis on Sunday, says the humanitarian emergency in Yemen is leaving 30 million people suffering.
While saying that he is convinced that the profit made from producing arms further fuels the fire, the Bishop, who also served as Apostolic Administrator of Northern Arabia, laments that this war is often forgotten because other conflicts are closer to the hearts of many people and also to the media.
In a wide-ranging interview with Vatican News, the Swiss Bishop, who just turned 80 a week ago, speaks about the crisis in Yemen, often recalled by the Pope in various appeals, but often forgotten by the world.
The population of Yemen is 31.9 million, of whom 23.4 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. According to the UN World Food Programme, there are 4.3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Yemen since March 2015. Statistics last month also report that 17.4 million people, that is to say more than half of the population, are in acute food insecurity, and 2.2 million children are likely to experience wasting.
Having been the Church leader responsible during the first trip of a Pope to the Arabian Peninsula, and the historic Papal Mass in Abu Dhabi attended by close to 180,000 people of all ages from the UAE and neighbouring countries, Bishop Hinder also discusses the fruits of this trip, in the light of Pope Francis’ Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together and encyclical Fratelli tutti.
All parties to the Yemen conflict have agreed to a two-month truce, reports the USA. However, the truce technically expires in the coming days.
Q: Even if all the parties to the Yemen conflict have agreed to a two-month truce, which is about to expire in these days, what is the situation in Yemen?
Bishop Paul Hinder: Nobody knows exactly what the real situation is in the country. There is reliable information only about some parts whereas the situation remains critical for the major part of the population regarding health, food and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of internally displaced people. I hope the present truce will be the beginning of serious negotiations. I get the impression that the parties are a bit tired of the war and have come to the insight that the war cannot be won on the battlefield. Even the ongoing negotiations do not immediately resolve the critical issues of healthcare and nourishment. In addition, there remains to be considered how to reconcile the different factions within the country. There are also pockets which could at any time resume opening fire.
War in Ukraine exacerbates humanitarian crisis in Yemen
Q: Many interests are fuelling this war. The international community is silent about Yemen. The Pope has made appeals. Why isn't it in the media? Why is it being forgotten by the world? From an international perspective, what can be done other than providing humanitarian aid?
I think this has partly to do with the inflation of information in a broader sense. Certain people are simply tired of hearing the same news always. At the international level, Yemen has been discussed within the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, but relatively little has happened. Even the UN Special Mission has done its best, but at the very end, there was little result. Who is ultimately responsible is very difficult to say. Of course, there are different parties involved in the conflict: there is Saudi Arabia with its allies. There's Iran at the back. There are internal parties, tribal issues, political interests and economic interests. Theologically speaking, we have also to take into account the devil who is always there as the troublemaker - of course without denying the responsibility of the people involved. At the same time, this reality makes me reflect further on the importance of the power of the prayer, as Jesus told us in the Gospels, there are some demons which cannot be driven out without prayer.
Q: What can be done to help the food emergency and malnourishment?
I see especially two dimensions. One is looking at how secure transportation channels can be established, so that food can be brought to the critical places and critical regions - this of course requires the necessary channels. Otherwise, if transportation is blocked militarily or by other elements, food cannot reach the hungry and the deprived. Secondly, if not more important—as soon as there is a longer ceasefire and a subsequent peace—is that the country needs to resume the cycles of production of vital commodities. Yemen is a poor country, but it has the capabilities to produce food within and for the country. However, an ongoing war puts all production in the country at risk, as it has been seen already in the country in the past; we now also see it in Ukraine. In Yemen, this tragic situation has continued for years. I am afraid however, now with the Ukrainian War that the situation becomes even more severe, because we know well that Ukraine is one of the major producers of wheat and indirectly food, worldwide. I do not know what will happen if this critical production of food ceases because of the war.
Q: What value do the Pope's appeals for forgotten wars, such as the ones he has made for Yemen hold? Is there a way the truce can continue or what needs to happen once it has expired?
The voice of the Pope is heard, but now these forgotten wars are of little interest. Yemen is really at the periphery for many parts of the world, though it is situated in a strategically important location. Often, for people in Europe, and I can say this even for my own home country [Bishop Hinder is Swiss], Yemen may appear on the horizon only when the Suez Canal is blocked or when provisions from Asia and Africa do not pass through as before. Then there is a scare.
However, many do not realize that the population of more than 30 million suffering in a beautiful country with a rich history, at the same time could shortly produce numerous refugees. In other parts of the world, I feel that this is very often forgotten; other conflicts are somehow closer to the hearts of the people and also to the media.
Regarding working toward a resolution, Pope Francis has spoken about this several times during the last few years. I myself have spoken to the Holy Father about the trafficking of arms and how the potential conflicts and violence can be reduced. What the Pope says has to be heard and people have to follow suit. I am also deeply convinced on personal level that in Ukraine there are also many people profiting of all the production of arms. I feel that many may not even be particularly interested in the true end of the war, and this is the tragedy throughout human history.
Fruits of Human Fraternity on Arabian Peninsula
Q: You were the Church leader for the first visit of the Pope to the Arabian Peninsula and have been responsible for the region for many years. At that time, the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Tayyeb signed an important and unprecedented document on human fraternity calling for respecting human rights and dignity, decrying extremism and religious persecution. The Pope has since written his encyclical Fratelli tutti on these themes. After all this, what would you say are the concrete fruits of this encounter that you are seeing across the Arabian Peninsula?
It is not very easy to speak about concrete fruits. There are some visible signs. A prominent one, for example, is the famous Abrahamic house being built in Abu Dhabi, which is expected to open before the end of this year. But these are —without diminishing their importance— the more symbolic actions. Of course, it is very difficult now, after two years of being under the effects of the pandemic, to say what the results are, also because of the heavy reduction of daily, face to face communication. So many initiatives were simply put at rest during this time. We will have to see how these initiatives restart now that the pandemic seems to be subsiding at least for a while.
I feel that, considering the relations between the different religions, that people are more open, one to another. This also depends to a certain extent on the country. Even here within the Peninsula, I would say that the UAE is not Kuwait; Saudi Arabia is not Qatar; Bahrain is not Oman. There are differences in operational style. But I feel that those who think with clarity are authentically and genuinely interested in dialogue and are convinced of the need to advance reciprocal and mutual respect and acceptance. They seek to acquire more knowledge about the other and also foster respect for the style of how others live their own religion. We never should forget we can learn from each other.
No bypassing Calvary, to run to Resurrection
Q: What is it like to be a Christian and live your faith across the Arabian Peninsula?
In the end, it is always a question of being a true and honest Christian and living our faith authentically. There should not be too broad a gap between what we speak with our lips and what we live in our lives, personally and communally. The authenticity of our Christian life is very important. At the same time, I would say - probably this comes to me as a Franciscan - that as Christians, especially in this region, we have to learn the way of humility, and this means that we should be willing to be submitted to others. This is also the reality. It is interesting to note, that at the beginning of Christianity, even slaves played an important role in bringing the message of Jesus Christ among the peoples with whom they lived. Sometimes, here, I see that the simple people with their style of how they live their Christian faith, sometimes as employees, sometimes even as quasi-slaves in households, bears fruit, not in the sense that everyone would now convert, but in giving an authentic witness. This also reminds us to be an adherent of Jesus Christ, who is not only the Pantocrator, but also the suffering and crucified Lord. I feel that each Christian has to go through this school. This is what we celebrated during the recent Holy Week and Easter. We all have a little bit of the tendency to bypass Calvary and run directly to the Resurrection and the Ascension. However, this does not work. It did not work in the life of Jesus Christ, and it will not work in the life of Christians.
Q: As the war rages on in Ukraine, what do you see of the truce Pope Francis has called for in the war-ravaged nation?
I am convinced that the position of Pope Francis is what we Christian leaders must also adopt for ourselves. It is the position of faith, where we are highly committed to non-violence, and also at the same time, that of compromise, where it is possible. This is of course, without denying the right to defend ourselves when our very existence is threatened. But this remains a road where today we cannot say what will be the right way for tomorrow. This is a major problem. Even Church leaders in Ukraine may also struggle with the question, how far can we push our people to resist to this violence, especially to unjust violence, from the other side. I feel that the Pope is also prudent and wise enough to know that there is a tension between the basic idea that we have to defend ourselves, as followers of Jesus Christ, as true Christians, and at the same time, to come to terms with the brutal reality which is going on in the political world. This does not always fit together. So, I simply do not have a satisfying answer to this conflict.
(Pope Francis on Sunday named Bishop Paolo Martinelli, O.F.M.Cap. as the new Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia.)