By Linda Bordoni – Abu Dhabi
Everyone has been working hard in Abu Dhabi to make sure the papal visit unfolds without a hitch. The government has shouldered most of the organizational work and the costs of the visit, but the Catholic Church has also been hands-on in preparing the faithful, the Mass, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral where the Pope will visit.
Fr Martin Stewen spoke to Vatican News about life in Abu Dhabi for Christian leaders and about the crucial importance of receiving the Pope as a herald of peace.
Martin Stewen is a priest from the Diocese of Chur in Switzerland. He has been working at the Abu Dhabi Vicariate since 2015 as a “Fidei Donum” priest, which means he carries out his mission abroad but remains attached to his Diocese.
Fr Martin describes this moment of preparation and expectation for Pope Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates as “outstanding” and “historic”.
The St. Joseph Parish where he works as Moderator of Christian Formation is located right next to a handful of Christian Churches of other denominations and across the road from a Mosque.
Fr Martin spoke about the kind of relationship he and the faithful have with their religiously diverse neighbours, all of whom are free to practice their faith in this nation that upholds tolerance as a key pillar for prosperity and wellbeing.
Good collaboration among pastors
Fr Martin says that, at a leadership level, contact and collaboration with other Christians is good with all the pastors of the different denominations who work assiduously together.
He talks of how he has just flown in from Oman together with the director of the Al Amana Centre, the interfaith institute in Muscat. Not only, he says, do they know each other very well, but they collaborate actively. And he explained there is a so called ‘Christian Church Fellowship’ in the area that is made up by the community of Church leaders.
However, “on the level of the parishes and parish councils”, he concludes, “contact is not very intensive and we do not work together in an ecumenical way”.
No contact with Muslims
As for the Muslim community in the Mosque, Fr Martin says Christians have no contact at all, “even though there are only a few meters in between, which is a bit of a pity; that is true.”
Maybe, he says, this papal visit will change things and allow them to “increase and improve our contact” with the Muslims.
With a tinge of wistfulness, Fr Martin also reveals there is no contact between the faithful of various Christian denominations in the area, saying they do not even know each other.
So, he says, there are many hopes and expectations regarding this historic visit, but “what its meaning will be in the future, only in the future we shall find out”.
Right now, Fr Martin says, everyone is just excited.
No matter, he says, whether they are Christians or Muslims or non-believers or whoever. “And not only because the head of the Catholic Church is coming to visit, but for who Pope Francis is”.
Everyone wants to welcome a herald of peace
“Everyone is amazed by this man”, he says.
Everybody, he explains, is following the news and “the papers are full of Pope Francis, because of the person he is in public; and everyone wants to get to know and to meet this man”.
The visit, he says, comes at a crucial time. The theme of the journey is “Make me a channel of your peace”. Fr Martin observes that peace is necessary in any part of the world, and here we are close to an area of war.
“Peace,” he concludes, “does not mean only an absence of weapons. Peace means friendship and considering one another as neighbours: I think his visit will increase that attitude very much, yes!”