Bishop Hinder: Dialogue with Islam, the Pope's legacy in the land of Arabia

The vicar speaks of enthusiasm "exceeding all expectations" for the papal visit. The joint document a sign of a "serious will" to build new relations with Muslims. "Honest and authentic" relations with the heads of the Emirates. The words of the pontiff "source of pride" for local Catholics. The meeting with a "small delegation" from Yemen.

Feb 08, 2019

ABU DHABi: The entrance to the stadium accompanied by an "explosion of enthusiasm" of the participants above all expectations, followed by a "simple but beautiful" Mass; the meeting with the Muslim world, the signing of a historic document resulting from a "serious willingness to take a step forward in interreligious dialogue": These are the highlights of the recent papal visit to the Gulf for Msgr. Paul Hinder.

The Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia(United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen) reflected on the importance of the visit with AsiaNews. "For our faithful, mainly immigrants, the meeting with Francis was a source of great encouragement".

An atmosphere of joy and enthusiasm for the many events that characterized the Pope's three days still lingers in the Emirates. From the first public Mass in front of more than 120 thousand people, including Muslims, to the interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi.

Analysts and experts also underline the importance of the document signed by the pontiff and by the great imam of Al-Azhar (Egypt), Ahmad Muhammad Al-Tayyib, of  "prophetic and revolutionary" value.

"On a personal level - explains Msgr. Hinder - the climax of the visit was the last day, spent in full with the Pope. From the morning, with breakfast together followed by a meeting with some representatives of my presbytery. Then the cathedral, greetings to the disabled, children, families and the elderly. The meeting with the oldest priest of the vicariate, of 92 years, was particularly touching. Finally, the journey together through the crowd in the pope mobile,... until the entrance to the stadium and the explosion of joy that accompanied him. Then Mass, simple and at the same time beautiful. The feeling is of having shared an experience".

On the journey from the episcopal house and the stadium "I spoke with the Pope" recalls the prelate, and "we discussed the situation of the vicariate. It was important for the Pope to observe the local reality at a personal level first, going beyond the documents and the reports. A direct knowledge of a Church made up mostly of migrants, with its problems and peculiarities. A community of Filipinos, Indians, Africans that is at the same time simple but rich in faith ".

 "On a personal level - he says - the most important moment was the meeting with the local community and the mass"; nevertheless, from a global point of view "the interreligious conference and the signature of the document with the imam, which represents an important step forward in the dialogue with Islam, are of great value".

The prelate observes that even from Muslim religious leaders and the leadership of the Emirates "there was not only a formal reception as local culture dictates, but honesty and authenticity in relationships. Whether this will turn into a strengthening in the field of rights, first of all religious freedom, this can only be seen with time ".

Msgr. Hinder judges Pope Francis's appeal on freedom of religion in the land of Arabia "courageous" and adds that "there have been no negative comments, even until the last moment, there was a climate of great cordiality ".

For the faithful "his words were a source of pride and an invitation to continue living the faith", contributing to "building" with Christians of other denominations and citizens of different religions, especially Muslims, a "pluralistic society without losing their traditions ".

In these days the 76-year-old prelate of Swiss origin also met "a small delegation" from Yemen, who was able to leave the country despite the war. "It was nice to be able to console them - he observes - in this situation which is still difficult for them".

In conclusion, he shares a personal reflection: "This visit so full of dignity has been a source of great joy in what is the last phase of my mission in a reality that has grown considerably in these 15 years. And, lastly, the thought goes to my predecessor, Msgr. Bernardo Gremoli: today [yesterday, for the reader] I wrote to his relatives, I am sure he accompanied us with his prayers".--Asia News

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