L-R: Fr. Valerio Mauro, Fr. Mauro Jöhri, Fr. Eugene Mattioli, Bishop Paul Hinder, Fr. Angelo Fiumicelli, Archbishop Francisco Padilla, Fr. Paul Koenig (Click on image to view more photos)
20 March 2017 (Abu Dhabi).
On 20 March 2017, St. Joseph's Cathedral witnessed an historic celebration: ‘The Builders of the Church in Arabia’, a centenary of Tuscan Capuchin presence in the Vicariate of Arabia. Fr. Angelo Fiumicelli, 91, retired in Italy and Fr. Eugene Mattioli, 86, still active, both enthusiastic and wise, made the day an unforgettable experience for all.
The one-hour solemn outdoor Eucharist was followed by talks and a video presentation. Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia was assisted by special guests: the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Francisco Padilla, Kuwait; the Minister General of the Capuchins, Fr. Mauro Jöhri, Rome; the Provincial of the Tuscan Capuchins, Fr. Valerio Mauro, Florence, and 43 priests from the parishes of the Vicariate and about 2000 faithful.
Entrusting a mission to a particular province of religious proved beneficial to the stable development of the Church in a territory: 1) a steady flow of missionaries; 2) team spirit and commitment; 3) active participation of the home church; support and volunteer engagement. In Arabia the aim was not the conversion of the Muslims but the pastoral care of the millions of labour migrants from all over the world.
Starting from the mission in Aden in 1916, the capuchins from Tuscany persevered in extremely difficult conditions and steadily built up the church in the peninsula over the last century. With the oil boom, there was a consequent flow of large numbers of expatriate workers to the Gulf. The generosity and openness of the rulers of the gulf countries enabled the Capuchins to establish new foundations in Bahrain (1939), the UAE and Oman (1960s), and also in the other gulf countries.
Later, by the time of Bishop Gremoli, who was Apostolic Vicar from 1976 to 2005, and also the last Bishop of the Vicariate to come from Tuscany, the province had become unable to fulfil the demand for more missionaries to assist the tens of thousands of Catholics who came to the Gulf countries. So Bishop Gremoli turned to other Capuchin provinces from India, Lebanon and the Philippines for assistance. He also sent laymen working in the Gulf for priestly training.
The migrant church of the Gulf is bursting at its seams but also a beacon of light in the effort of priests, religious and lay people to be the universal church, one in a diversity of nationalities, cultures and church traditions.
Fr. Eugene Mattioli, also celebrated the Diamond Jubilee (60 years) of his ordination to the priesthood. He is the last Tuscan Capuchin in the Vicariate, with the highest number of missionary years on record.
The whole programme can be watched at the links below. The short video presentation at the end (10 min) highlights the 100 years.