The new Apostolic Vicar for Southern Arabia has pledged to help “overcome the scars of the pandemic” and “heal broken families” after being welcomed to the role this weekend.
Bishop Paulo Martinelli, who was the auxiliary bishop in Milan for eight years, took part in a ceremony of Installation on Saturday at St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi.
He succeeds Bishop Paul Hinder, 80, who was in service for 18 years and championed interfaith harmony in the region.
As the highest-ranking Catholic official in a jurisdiction covering the UAE, Oman and Yemen, Bishop Martinelli outlined the challenges he aims to tackle.
“My priority will be to overcome the scars of the pandemic, to heal broken families and encourage our faithful to rediscover the spiritual rhythm of life,” he told The National in an interview.
The 63-year-old plans to first familiarise himself with the people that make up the community.
“For this I will have to meet the priests, the religious sisters who serve here and to understand their ministry and challenges. I plan to start visiting the churches and meet as many people as I can in order to understand the people here, their life, their joys and pains,” he said.
There are nine churches for almost 800,000 Catholics in the UAE alone, with the majority of churches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
Spread the word on dignity and joy
Bishop Martinelli said the prolonged nature of the pandemic made people accustomed to a state of anxiety.
“I can see that so many people are feeling unsure and insecure. For this reason, we have to give hope,” he said.
“To instil hope and courage in the hearts of people is a priority so that they can enjoy the beauty of life.”
He was also keen to get to know the schools in the vicariate.
“To take care of education is to take care of the future,” he said.
Bishop Martinelli was appointed to his new position by Pope Francis.
He has a background steeped in education.
He worked as a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and taught at the University of Antonianum where he was also the dean of the Franciscan Institute of Spirituality.
He has written several books on theology.
The bishop’s main objective is to spread happiness and uplift parishioners so they are conscious of their self-worth.
“My central message would be to be joyful in every situation,” he said.
“Joy is not just a general feeling. It is a feeling which arises from the experience when we feel that we are loved. The root of joy lies in the feeling of being loved. What this leads us to experience is that each one of us is important. Every person has his or her special dignity and every person’s life is important.”
A more humane world
This is Bishop Martinelli’s first visit to the UAE and to the Arab region.
Within a few days of landing in the country, he experienced a “spirit of hospitality” and was surprised by the greenery and world class infrastructure.
“I could see the vision of the leaders who guided the development of this modern country. The nation is quite young with just 50 years of history since its formation, and it is amazing to witness all this great development,” he said.
“I am just five days in this country and already I feel the warmth and love from people — in a certain sense, I could already feel in the air the atmosphere of human fraternity and of tolerance. This is inspiring.”
He spoke of the rich legacy of his predecessor Bishop Paul Hinder and said that under his “fatherly care” priests, sisters and people were directly involved in pastoral work.
Bishop Martinelli aims to collaborate with priests, sisters of different religious orders and the people.
“Our faithful come from more than 100 nationalities, several languages and cultures, and in a certain sense reflect a true global village,” he said.
“I am looking forward to building relationships and understanding through inter-religious dialogue and to foster ecumenical relations with other Christian churches.”
The document on universal fraternity signed by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, Grand Iman of Al Azhar, in February 2019 holds great significance to the new bishop.
He said the document showed the contribution religions could make to build a more fraternal and human world.
“I think we all must work hard to spread the spirit of this document,” Bishop Martinelli said.
Being part of a society that celebrates tolerance and passing on lessons of respectful coexistence to the rest of the world are also part of his plans.
“What we live here is important for the whole world,” he said.
“We are called to give a message that it is possible to live together though we are very different.”