Thursday, 23 August 2007

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.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ said...

Fr Nicholas of Arabia hey? i thought there was something a bit exotic about you! lol

2:43 pm  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Excellent. My home parish and church, which I didn't realise how much I missed untl I left. The temperature norm is about 48 degrees at this time of year.

5:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would St Joe's still be called a cathedral even if technically there is no Bishop of the ecclesiastical territory?

6:24 pm  
Blogger Berolinensis said...

Very intersting insights, Father (as always). As it happens: I don't know if you read German, but the Swiss Catholic News Agency today has an article on the Vicar Apostolic Msgr. Hinder (although they persistently refer to him as "Bishop of Arabia"): http://www.kipa-apic.ch/meldungen/sep_show_de.php?id=3830

11:28 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Anonymous - St Joseph's is called a 'Cathedral' but I think technically it may class as a 'Pro-Cathedral' since a Vicar Apostolic does not have a cathedra as such.

6:05 am  
Anonymous Fr Redman said...

We have had a bishop since 1850, and yet for most of the period since then our principal church has been a pro-cathedral, even with a bishop. Dublin still has a pro-cathedral I think.

9:12 pm  
Blogger A Simple Sinner said...

Hmm - wouldn't the Romanian Eparchy or Chaldean Eparchy in America be bigger? Those bishops cover the entire nation - 9,629,091 sq KM.

Actually Canada is larger than the US, so the Canadian Slovak Greek Catholic diocese - covering the whole of the nation - 9,976,140 sq KM would be bigger still.

5:17 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

True, the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia covers a mere 3 million square km. However, dioceses/eparchies of the Eastern Rite Churches tend to be very large, so perhaps it's a false comparison?!

9:13 am  
Blogger A Simple Sinner said...

I dunno. They tend to be large because there are only a handful of us spread out...

That one is large because it covers a heck of a lot of sand that gets so hot, you could wrap a raw chicken in tin foil, set it on the sand and come back several hours later to find it cooked and edible. (So a Kuwaiti tells me.)

So this Greek Catholic is going to stand by his boast. "Our people" have the largest diocese with the trans-Canadian diocese for Slovak Greek Catholics. 3x larger, baby! (er Father)

We don't have a whole heck of a lot. Give us this one! Please?

8:10 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Errr - Ok then. Just this one I defer to the Greek Catholics.

8:43 pm  
Blogger demigod said...

Hi, Bishop Hinder is the auxiliary Bishop of The Vicariate apostolic, and he is ordained as a bishop. The difference is that he has to do the "bishop" things in the name of the Pope since technically the Vicariate doesn't have a "see" yet. That's how I understand it.

And by the way, for Latin rite Churches, St. Joseph of Irkutsk is the most extensive diocese since 2003? when it was established. It covers Siberia and the Far East Russia, and covers almost 1/2 of the country. Boy, the priests up there need to cover a lot of ground between them, as it is about a third of a million sq. kilometers per priest. by the way, go to www. vladmission.org for more details on their wonderful mission.

6:19 pm  

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