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Rome & the World: Christians in the Gulf; popes and the Jewish Community of Rome



I.Media - published on 09/29/22

Every day, Aleteia offers a selection of articles written by the international press about the Church and the major issues that concern Catholics around the world. The opinions and views expressed in these articles are not those of the editors.
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Thursday 29 September 2022
1. The evolving condition of Christians in the Gulf
2. The slow evolution of relations between Jews and the Vatican
3. A mass in honor of Queen Elizabeth II organized in Rome
4. Why “trads” seek to anchor the future of the Church in the past
5. Church needs women’s work but pays little attention to their voices

1The evolving condition of Christians in the Gulf

While the Holy See has just officially announced Pope Francis’ trip to Bahrain, the Atlantic Treaty Association has published a study on the current situation of Christians in the Gulf, a region where many Christians from the Arab world have emigrated in recent years. Unlike many countries in the Middle East, the article explains, the peninsula seems like “a safe haven.” However, this does not mean that the region is a textbook case of ideal coexistence, especially on issues such as church building and freedom of worship. The history of the Christian presence in the Gulf dates back to the fourth century A.D. However, the birth and expansion of Islam in the seventh century A.D. hindered any further development of Christianity. In the early days of Islam, Christians in the Arabian Peninsula had only two choices: convert to Islam or leave. Despite this, the Church maintained an institutional presence in the region. Although there is no reliable demographic data on the size of the Christian communities in the area, it is believed that they constitute between 5% and 10% of the total population of the Gulf. Most of the Christians in the peninsula are part of a migrant population (especially from Asian countries), with the number of native Gulf Christians estimated to be no more than a few hundred (mainly in Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain). In Kuwait, there are an estimated 350,000 faithful, or 6% of the total population; in Oman, an estimated 2.5% of the population; in the United Arab Emirates, there are about 1,500,000 Christians (of which 20% are Catholics), out of a population of six million. In Qatar instead, 110,000 people out of a total population of 1,200,000 are Catholic. In Bahrain, 65,000 out of a population of 1 million are Catholic. This country is a historically significant place for Christianity in the Gulf: “Bet Qatraye,” the name of the ecclesiastical province that covered present-day Bahrain, was an important center of Nestorianism, a Christian heresy originating in the 5th century. Persecuted by the Byzantine Empire, the Nestorians found refuge in the uncontrolled province of Bahrain. The contemporary names of some of the kingdom’s villages bear witness to the Christian imprint – for example, Al Dair (“the monastery” in Arabic) on the northern coast of Muharraq Island. Bahrain was also the first Gulf country to build a church in 1906, when the state was a protectorate of the United Kingdom. Gulf policies regarding the Christian community vary greatly from country to country. In Saudi Arabia, sharia law informs jurisprudence, while in the United Arab Emirates, living conditions for Christians are among the best in the region. Christians do not generally hold important positions in the state, with a few exceptions such as Alice Samaan, a politician who is the daughter of Christian immigrants from Syria and who in 2005 became the first woman to preside over a session of the Bahraini Parliament. 

Atlantic Treaty Association, English 

2The slow evolution of relations between Jews and the Vatican

The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo di Segni, co-signs with the historian Fredric Brandfon a very dense article on several centuries of ambiguity in the relations between various popes and the Jewish community of Rome. This community, whose presence dates back to 139 B.C., has in fact maintained a complex relationship with the pope over the centuries, oscillating between respect and hostility. As a sign of this ambiguity, a strange ritual marked the coronations of several popes, beginning with Eugene III in 1145. It featured the offering of a Torah scroll to the new Bishop of Rome, who accepted this gift while delivering a message denouncing Judaism. A witness to the coronation of Innocent VIII in 1484 reported on the spirit of the words spoken by the Jewish community : “Holy Father, in the name of our synagogue, we Hebrew men implore that your Holiness deign to confirm and approve the Mosaic Law, which almighty God gave to Moses, our shepherd on Mount Sinai, as the other supreme pontiffs, Your Holiness’s predecessors, have confirmed and approved it.” However, these words elicited an explicit rejection from the popes at the time. The words of Boniface VIII in 1295, reread in light of a present-day interpretation, seem to express a visceral anti-Semitism: “God who you once knew, today you ignore. You are his people and you have become his enemy. When he is revealed you block him from view. Although you know how to recognize him. Now when he is present you disdain him. The nations have recognized his coming; you avoid him. You have rejected He who came among his people and put to death He who shed his blood for you. This ignorance of the meaning of the Scripture will lead you to perdition. Repent if you wish on the day of judgment to share the fate of the just who the Lord welcomes in glory because of their merits.” This vision would endure for several centuries. Thus, the coronation of the short-lived Pope Pius VIII in 1829 was accompanied by the baptism of a Jewish convert. However, recent pontificates have marked a turning point. Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, in office since 2001, assures us that he has “personally witnessed many surprises.” In particular, he remembers a fraternal and spontaneous exchange with Pope Francis a few days after his election in 2013. Although “the confrontation between two worlds is always difficult,” the Chief Rabbi of Rome notes, in “meteorology, global warming is a matter of concern. In religious relations, the perspective is different, warming is often a positive thing,” he rejoices.

Tablet Mag, English

3. A mass in honor of Queen Elizabeth II organized in Rome

The new British cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship, celebrated on September 28 in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls a Mass in memory of the late Queen Elizabeth II. Organized at the initiative of several embassies of the Commonwealth countries, this Mass concluded – unusually for a Catholic liturgy – with the song “God Save the King.”

Vatican News, French

4. Why “trads” seek to root the Church’s future in the past

Behind the liturgical battles lies the search for a “pure” form of Catholicism, explains an article in US Catholic magazine. In the context of a world that has become increasingly complex and unstable, nostalgia for pre-conciliar language is spreading among many Catholics who are motivated by an ideal of purity, but who risk neglecting attention to those outside their circle, US Catholic warns.

US Catholic, English.

5. Church needs women’s work but pays little attention to their voices

The site linked to the Archdiocese of Madrid refers to the many questions about the place of women in the Catholic Church that were expressed during the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality. Women everywhere play a vital role in the life of the Church, but they do not always have access to leadership positions, the article says.

Alfa y Omega, Spanish.

Rome & the World
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