The Largest 'Diocese' in the World
Greetings from Bishop's House, Abu Dhabi (UAE)! I haven't been able to blog the last few days - nor was I sure how prudent it would be to do so. But having got the 'go-ahead' from the Vicar General, who is an Englishman, I thought it was time to give an up-date. The picture above shows yours truly (in an Indian-style tropical cassock) with the good sisters I have been leading in retreat the last eight days. They belong to the Apostolic Carmel (based in Bahrain) and the Carmelites of St Teresa (based here in Abu Dhabi). Sorry about the shadow.
Here is St Joseph's Cathedral, the mother church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia. Abu Dhabi is one of the world's newest cities - just forty years ago it was a tiny desert settlement, with none of the skyscrapers that you see today. It has, of course, been transformed by the discovery of oil. The first Catholic church was built here in 1965, with the help of the British and the permission of Sheikh Zayed (who attended the opening ceremony). The episcopal seat was moved here from Aden in 1972 following the Yemeni Communist Revolution, thanks to the efforts of Bishop Calabresi, who had the wonderful title of 'Apostolic Delegate for the Red Sea'.
The Apostolic Vicariate claims to be the largest ecclesiastical territory in the world, covering Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen - an area of about 1,858,491 square miles (2,990,958 sq km), though much of this is desert. There is a substantial Catholic population, entirely made up of foreign workers. Sunday Masses (which are celebrated on Friday and Sunday) are packed and at least 2,000 attended the Cathedral's Assumption procession last week. The Vicariate's schools are highly regarded and are open to non-Catholics (indeed, such is the reputation that they are used by prominent members of the local community). Since 1916, the Vicariate has been under the care of the Tuscan Province of Capuchins and the current Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Paul Hinder, is a Capuchin friar originally from Switzerland.
According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a Vicar Apostolic is equivalent in law to a diocesan bishop, possessing all ordinary jurisdiction and enjoying the usual rights, faculties, privileges and obligations. However, rather than exercising this governance in his own name, he does so in the name of the Supreme Pontiff. The fact that Arabia is an Apostolic Vicariate reflects this area's stage of ecclesial development - i.e. it has not reached full maturity or independence (just like England and Wales up until 1850).
Above is a picture of Bishop's House, which has been my home for the last fortnight. Note the rising minarets right behind - I wish modern English churches could be built to the same standard as these modern mosques.
One final picture of the Catholic compound here in Abu Dhabi is the convent of the Congregation of St Teresa, where the six nuns who run the school live. As you can perhaps tell from these pictures, it's jolly hot - in the mid 40s. I'm used to walking about quite a lot in London and so it's a bit of a shock coming to this climate and living in an air-conditioned bubble without much exercise. British readers who are complaining about their ghastly summer don't know how lucky they are! More Arabian-themed posts to follow.