ABU DHABI – The plenary meeting of the Conference of Latin Bishops in the Arab Regions (CELRA) took place at the parish center of Musaffah in Abu Dhabi on October 18-22, 2021. For most of the bishops who live alone and far from one another, the meeting was a significant time of simple and joyful fraternal collaboration. They prayed together and celebrated the Eucharist with the faithful of the parish of St Paul and of the cathedral of St. Joseph; and sharing in the joys and hopes, problems and worries that were more or less particular from country to country.
The Bishops of CELRA are grateful to Bishop Paul Hinder for the invitation, making it possible to hold the meeting in Abu Dhabi despite the Covid-19 pandemic-related health restrictions imposed by the government of the Emirate. Their gratitude is beyond words in thanking Fr. Darisck, secretary to the Apostolic Vicar; the Capuchin Father Custos of the Gulf countries and the Capuchin community of Musaffah; and the local Parish priest for the gracious welcome, the well-organized logistical arrangements and most warm hospitality.
The Bishops devoted time for discussions on the following:
1. The new Arabic Roman Missal. The new edition has been updated in content, in the linguistic and graphic style, in the presentation and insertion of icons written expressly for this publication. The Bishops unanimously approved the work done and established that the new Roman Missal be printed and used starting from the first Sunday of Advent 2022.
Recognition was expressed to the Episcopal Commission for the Liturgy, to Bishop William Shomali, most recently to Father Aziz Halaweh and their collaborators, for the work done with dedication and competence, and in fidelity to the original Latin edition.
2. Synod of Bishops: communion, participation, mission. After consideration and understanding the reason for this new way of celebrating the Synod of Bishops, the diocesan Ordinaries are convinced that a process is about to begin that is intended to create a new way of ‘being Church’. It is necessary to listen to everyone, to express one’s idea, and to identify together the positive to be encouraged and the negative to be corrected, to let oneself be led by the Spirit in order to choose the appropriate means to preserve the unity of faith and communion in charity.
Each Bishop has opened or is about to open the diocesan phase of the Synod of Bishops with an appropriate celebration, with a pastoral letter, with a diocesan secretariat in charge of following the work of animation and publication of pastoral support tools. The journey is challenging and requires creativity.
The results of each ecclesiastical circumscription will be sent to the Secretariat of the Episcopal Conference to prepare the synthesis proper to CELRA.
3. Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The health emergency is similar in all countries, with more or less severe restrictions imposed by local health ministries. It took the pastors, the faithful and everyone by surprise. The parish priests reacted differently: those who closed in on themselves, those who wanted to ensure the liturgical service despite everything, those who set in motion their creativity to make the Church close to those suffering from infirmities or forced isolation. Solidarity within the dioceses and between the various Churches and institutions was greatly appreciated.
The Bishops asked themselves how to convince the faithful of the importance of celebrating the Eucharist together and of being together in community, to be truly ‘Church’, how to awaken the longing for pastoral encounters, how to spiritually accompany people in search of the meaning of the pandemic. Prayer in the family and community must certainly be encouraged, the values of friendship and solidarity must be developed, the need to preserve one’s own health and that of others must be taken seriously. Our individual and community vulnerability has been rediscovered, and therefore acknowledging the extreme importance of unity and cohesion in facing the sad reality.
4. Global Compact on Education. Without Catholic schools, the operating arm in the field of education, the Church would lose contact with the pastoral reality of the territory, that is, with both Christian and Muslim families. In some areas it is not possible to ensure catechesis even in Christian schools. And where it is allowed, it sometimes leaves something to be desired due to the lack of preparation of the teachers or the deficiency of the texts used. In any case, schools must become places of formation and transmission of the values that must permeate the daily life of every citizen: paying greater attention to the person, considering the different not as an enemy, put into practice the encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’, helping the weakest, taking care of creation as insistently requested by ‘Laudato Sì’.
5. The Ministry of the Catechist. This has been established by the Motu Propio “Antiquum Ministerium” of Pope Francis. It is something new that requires discernment, evaluation and preparation in the diversity and complex situation of the CELRA.
The bishops have not forgotten the cultural aspect, and visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Expo 2020 in Dubai and taking the time to see the Holy See pavilion.
At the end, Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Latin Patriarchate, an active member of CELRA for 28 years, warmly thanked his brother bishops for their apostolic communion and fraternity, for their encouragement and support.
The next CELRA plenary meeting is scheduled for February 14-16, 2022 in Rome.
The meetings of the CELRA members