Bishop Martinelli: Human fraternity a prophetic act for peace

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A few weeks before the start of his mission as Vicar Apostolic of South Arabia, Bishop Paolo Martinelli takes stock of his mission. He looks forward to working in a multicultural church reality and reflects on how the Document on Human Fraternity signed in Abu Dhabi points the way to living a life of faith in harmony with all.

By Alessandro DeCarolis

Bishop Paolo Martinelli, OFM Cap., is the new Vicar Apostolic of South Arabia. Earlier this month he left his ministry as Episcopal Vicar in the Archdiocese of Milan to gradually immerse himself in the new reality of his pastoral ministry. The universal importance of human brotherhood, as described in Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, provides an important point of reference for his work there. He spoke to Vatican News about his new role and the context in which he now serves.

What has been your approach to this part of the Church and to interreligious relations entrusted to you by the Pope?

I tried to become more aware of what this mission means. And now I have had the opportunity to hear from my predecessor, Bishop Paul Hinder, as well as the other members of the Bishopric of Abu Dhabi. We tried to understand the reality of this Apostolic Vicariate. I understand that it is a very complex, very diverse reality, but it also seems very promising, very beautiful and very significant for the Church today. A Church made up entirely of faithful migrants who are there to work, and we, as an ecclesial reality, must serve them, their faith, their presence, inhabit this territory for them: a reality that is not easy, but which gives them the possibility of work. On the other hand, there is the daily encounter with the reality of Islam.

Not only is it a “Church of the Gentiles”, because it is made up of faithful who come from so many countries, from different cultures, even the priests themselves come from many different countries. The other reality to consider is that it is the place where Pope Francis, three years ago, signed the Abu Dhabi Document with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. I therefore believe that we have the task of cherishing the memory of this prophetic gesture, the importance of which is certainly even stronger today than three years ago.

You have just assumed your new responsibility, has the Document on Human Fraternity already had any influence on your ministry?

I will be going to Abi Dhabi at the end of June, where there will be a mass to begin my ministry. Then there will also be a meeting with the civil authorities, so there will certainly be an opportunity to have more direct contact with them. It seems to me that the Christian community is already trying to find ways for the Document on Human Fraternity event to be an important criterion for living out one’s faith and one’s relationships in this social context. For my part, I find this a particularly significant theme today, not only for this land, because it seems to me that this meeting which took place in this very land has something to say to the whole world at this time. .

Europe is currently at the center of a war that has upset all the geopolitical balances of the continent. What is the perception of this situation in the area where you have been called to serve?

It seems to me that the history of the countries (here), the good relations that have been established in recent years, show the importance of the message that the Pope gives so much in relation to the war in the face of these dramatic and overwhelming events (in Europe), but above all in the promotion of brotherly relations. This is a central theme, we must keep it in mind, and it is what we need to be able to address and overcome an international crisis of such devastating proportions. If we really don’t return to a spirit of fraternity, if we don’t spread this message in our cultures, I really think that we are heading towards an increasingly complex situation which will be very difficult to overcome.

Would you say that the message of Human Brotherhood could be “exported” from the land where it was established, in a sense, sending a message of brotherhood and peace to other lands where it is truly needed?

Exactly. It’s interesting that it comes from that background, so in the relationship between Christianity and Islam it affirms something that is important to every man and woman of our time.

Your ministry as Vicar Apostolic of South Arabia begins during these weeks. Do you have any particular points that you believe should be developed in your mission within the framework of your short or medium term objectives?

By studying some of the activities carried out by the Apostolic Vicariate, there is certainly this parish network that allows us to respond to a great need of our faithful. And it is certainly something that must be strengthened and continued, where the context allows, calmly. Certainly, my thoughts and my heart, from the beginning, went to Yemen, which is part of the Vicariate and which, at the moment, and for years, is experiencing a very serious conflict. I am thinking of the Sisters of Mother Teresa who suffered the loss of four of their sisters there because they did not want to leave this place, despite the threats, because they felt the duty of faith and of their vocation to caring for people with disabilities. Then, there is something else that strikes me, which seems interesting to me to develop: I noticed the presence of many schools promoted by the Vicariate in collaboration with certain religious institutes. This seems to be something traditional in the context of the Middle East: school environments as a place of intercultural and also interreligious encounter, since many of those who attend these schools are Muslims. It seems to me something that deserves to be developed: the place where we learn to weave positive relationships with people who represent cultural and religious diversity, in order to build a good life for all.

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