Dear brothers and sisters,
I wish you, your families, relatives and friends, the Peace of the Lord. May Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, give you reconciliation with everyonel so that you may enjoy his consolation and joy.
I greet all of you, and in a very special way all those who are in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as this is the first time that I address you, my dear brothers and sisters of these honourable Countries. You became members of the ancient Apostolic Vicariate of Kuwait, now the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia on 31st May 2011. I want to thank again Bishop Paul Hinder, ofm Cap, for his greatly appreciated pastoral work amongst you. May the Lord reward him abundantly as He does always with those who serve Him with all their heart.
On 31st MAY we began a new journey that we will walk together. There is no Catholic Community if the Bishop and priests are far from you and vice versa. We need to walk hand in hand, especially with the priests, my most precious and beloved collaborators; in our difficult situation we can live our Christian life with joy only if we are together, if we are ONE! Our Church is formed of many communities and we have to respect the identity of each one of them, but at the same time we must not forget that we need to be ONE Catholic Church and not many Catholic Churches besides each other. This is the first message that I want to address to you: to form ONE Catholic Church in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Jesus prayed for that: "May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me" (Jn. 17:21). We live in a Muslim world where Jesus Christ is appreciated as a prophet but not recognized as Son of God and as God himself. But, if we are ONE Catholic Church we will give to those around us a strong witness of the identity and mission of Jesus Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, when you see that I am not working well for this unity in diversity, please let me know. And I will do the same for you when I see that diversity is dominating unity. We are all human beings and we can all make mistakes, fraternal correction is the best way to keep our Catholic Church as ONE Church, the Church that Jesus Christ founded through his death, resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit.
Dear brothers and sisters, with this message in our mind and especially in our hearts, let us start our walk together, hand in hand. May Our Lady of Arabia accompany us and be our guide and mother.
For those who are new, I would like to inform you that in the past four years, every year I have written a Pastoral Letter privileging Liturgy and especially the celebration of the Eucharist. For four years we studied and meditated on the Eucharist. A book, in English and in Malayalam, with all my four Pastoral Letters put together is available in Kuwait and can be brought to the our other Gulf Countries if you would like to have it.
I think that I will write on the Liturgy in the next years too, because Liturgy is the most attended event by all of you. Of course, there are other occasions (prayer meetings, celebrations of the Word, etc.) but the occasion that attracts you most is the celebration of the Sacraments - Liturgy. So, I would like to elaborate every year on one of the Sacraments, which are very unique moments of Communion between us and God. This doesnít however prevent me to sometimes take another subject, according to what I see most urgent for our Christian life.
That is why I have decided this year to write on "Faith and Works". Why?
2. Prayer in our Daily Life
In all of our parishes there is a chapel for perpetual adoration and it is with great joy I can say that none of these chapels are ever empty. There are always some people (and often, many people) praying. Besides these chapels, there is in Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar a grotto of the Virgin Mary. I always see many of you there, speaking to the Virgin Mary like a child to its mother. I will never forget a man whom I saw one day weeping in front of the grotto of the Virgin Mary in the compound of the Cathedral in Kuwait. I approached him and found out the reason for his deep suffering, he had lost his job and he was the sole provider for his family.
It is also a great joy for me to see our churches always full for the celebration of the Eucharist. I have lived two thirds of my life in countries where Christians are very few, and the churches are normally almost empty. No doubt now it is a great consolation for me to see our churches not only full of people but, at the weekends and on very many other occasions, even literally packed!
Our Catholic Church in the Gulf is very vibrant and rich of charismas. Many of you follow the different Ecclesiastical movements that the authority of the Church has recognized officially. Prayer meetings, Celebrations of the Word, Catechesis in its various forms, pious associations, etc. are all very good and frequent occasions in which you encounter God and meet one another. Prayer is not absent in our Vicariate. It is due to prayer that some of our churches are still there and have not yet closed.
Not only Liturgical or personal prayer, but also acts of charity are another charisma very much developed in our Vicariate and in the Gulf in general. Many associations work for the poor in the present Country or in the original Country. Unfortunately, not all the works of charity are conducted in a truly Christian spirit. Sometimes I notice a very closed mentality, like a ghetto: to help only those of our Rite or language and to ignore the others, even though there may be a big and urgent need. However, I hope that through a deeper spiritual formation we, Bishop and priests, can ameliorate these services.
Also, I cannot but mention the thousands of you who collaborate with us and help us, Bishop and priests, in our apostolate. Without you we are like a body without legs, we cannot move. I thank God many times over for giving us collaborators always ready to serve, and people who, especially in certain Countries, risk their job and the future of their family in order to protect and ensure the mission of the Church.
Finally, I want to mention those of you who are sick or handicapped. You bear in your body the passion of Jesus Christ. As Jesus Christ saved us through his passion and death, in the same way, you, our brothers and sisters who are sick or handicapped, you save our Church through your communion with the passion of Jesus Christ. You are the most precious collaborators and faithful of our Vicariate and of the Church in general.
Besides these very positive aspects of our Church, we have however to ask ourselves: what is the deepest reason that pushes us to participate in the activities of the Church? Sometimes we find it difficult to tell somebody that his/her time (normally three years) is over and he/she should give his/her place to others. Why this personal attachment to the activities of the Church? We may have various answers: I am free, or I like to serve, or I want to continue what I have been doing in my original country, etc.
Also, what do we have on our mind when we participate in many prayers, Masses, various celebrations, etc.? What is pushing us to recite so many prayers, novenas, to attend so many Masses? Of course, this religious practice is very much appreciated and should be continued. However, what I would like to clarify here is not the religious practice as such but the mentality, the spirit, with which one is doing these pious practises. To explain better the mistaken attitude that we can possess in our religious life, I would like to give an example, very far from our present history, but a very clear example of how we think that we are walking with God whilst we are not. We find this example in the Bible, in the letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians. We can see, in those faithful, our personal situation too.
3. The Case of the Galatians is our Guide
According to the scholars, Saint Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians around the year 56 during a stay in Ephesus. He states: "We acknowledge that what makes a man righteous is not obedience to the Law, but faith in Jesus Christ ... now we hold that faith in Christ rather than fidelity to the Law is what justifies us, and that no one can be justified be keeping the Law" (Gal 2:16). Again, in his letter to the Romans, St. Paul says: "A man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do" (Rom 3:28). The Law of which St. Paul speaks of is the Law of Moses, the Law that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai. In his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul doesnít speak about "the works of the Law" but simply "the works". He writes: "Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God, not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit" (Eph 2:8-9).
After these statements of St. Paul, should we conclude that our prayers, novenas, Masses, etc. are useless and that it is enough to just have faith in Jesus Christ?
Saint Paul is not speaking about the Christian life in general but about the moment of salvation of a person through Jesus Christ. When a person believes in Jesus Christ and receives Baptism, that person is purified from all his sins, becomes "justified", i.e. made "just" before God, due to the Passion of Jesus Christ who "died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3). Therefore, the basis of this justification is definitely not the good works done by the person, but only in his faith in the redemption, realized in and by Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
For the Galatians, faith in Jesus Christ was not enough. Some preachers went there and taught them that redemption given by Jesus Christ was useless if there is no obedience to the Law of Moses also: circumcision, the laws regarding food (which food was permitted and which was forbidden) and regarding ritual purity, the rest on Sabbath, etc. Saint Paul classifies this teaching as a "different version of the Good News" (Gal 1:6), practically "another Gospel", different from which he had announced to them, and affirms that "Everyone who accepts circumcision is obliged to keep the whole Law" (Gal 5:3). The consequence was that Christians who converted from paganism were becoming slaves of the Law of Moses, so he reacted strongly: "If you do look to the Law to make you justified, then you have separated yourselves from Christ, and have fallen from grace" (Gal 5:4). Saint Paul saw in the teaching of those preachers a very serious and dangerous error: they were claiming the observance of the Law as a necessary role for salvation, besides the role of faith in Christ. For them salvation had to be based on two pillars: faith in Christ and the observance of the Law of Moses.
There are two religious attitudes competing against each other: one is to present to God our own works we have done according to the Law and thinking that these works will obtain our salvation; by our works we will be judged "just" before God. The other, on the contrary, requires that we recognize ourselves as sinners and we accept with faith the salvation given by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this second case, we are judged "just" through faith in Jesus Christ.
The first attitude "buys" salvation through works we have done, we save ourselves through our obedience to the Law, we deserve and we have the right to be saved because we have done something for God. This attitude leads us to pride and the denial of God, especially if He doesnít intervene in our life as we want. The second attitude is a humble renouncement of salvation gained by our works and an acceptation of the free gift from God, who makes us "just" through the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus Christ. This second attitude creates in us humility and gratitude towards God, who wants to save us in spite of our sins. In other words: it is Jesus Christ who saves us and not our works; we are saved if we believe in Him, and not if we count on our works to be saved.
Again: to believe in Jesus Christ, to accept him as the one who "sacrificed himself for our sins" (Gal 1:4) means to recognize that we are sinners, unable to make ourselves "just" and to accept that this salvation is brought to us by Jesus Christ and not by ourselves.
On the contrary, to pretend to be saved by our own works means that we donít need Jesus Christ ("I cannot bring myself to give up Godís gift: if the Law can justify us, there is no point in the death of Christ", Gal 2:21). To think that our works can obtain salvation, brings us to a dead point, as the Psalm sings: "Do not call your servant to judgment for no one is just in your sight" (Ps 142/143:2). In the light of the Pascal mystery, Saint Paul understood that all men are sinners ("Both Jew and pagan sinned" Rom 3:23) and that sin could be removed only by an intervention from God and not by our own efforts.
We have to pay attention to keep this humble attitude in our life, i.e. not to consider our good works as a pillar of our life and of our personal value, but we have to ground everything only on our faith in Jesus Christ and in our love for him.
Many times, without being aware, we donít look for life and guidance in Jesus Christ. We are always convinced, with a strong conviction, that salvation comes from the Sacraments but we are practically convinced that we obtain forgiveness, mercy, and salvation through our own personal efforts too. We think: I have to be faithful to my religious practices (personal and community prayers, novenas, Masses, retreats, etc.) because I need a better or a more secure job, a good future for my children, good health for my family, etc.; we believe that all this will be given us if we are regular in our religious duties. Unfortunately, we forget the teaching of Jesus: "It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well" (Mt 6:32-33).
Is this not in contradiction with the other teaching of Jesus: "Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Mt 7:7)? We have to understand this passage in the context of the general teachings of Jesus, who came into our world to announce to us that God is our Father. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, what makes the difference? - do we realize that we are speaking with our Father?: "In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Mt 6:7-8).
4. What to think? What to do?
After what I have said, can we conclude that we should leave prayer, abandon or reduce our Masses, avoid all the novenas, etc.? Is it not faith in Christ which saves us and not our works? So, why continue to accomplish works, to practice charity towards the needy? In one word, why do anything at all? Since our base is faith in Jesus Christ, it is enough to often renew our faith in Him and ... thatís it!
No, this conclusion would be a very mistaken one! Saint Paul says that the pillar of our Christian life is only Jesus Christ: "For the foundation, nobody can lay any other than the one which has already been laid, that is, Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11), our faith should be in Jesus Christ and not our religious practices. But our faith will be more authentic if it pushes us to pray, to remain in communion with God, to take care of the others. Otherwise our faith will be a dead one! We join here a similar teaching of Saint James: "Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead ... A body dies when it is separated from the spirit, and in the same way faith is dead if it is separated from good deeds" (Jm. 2:17.26). Saint Paul presents the same teaching: "... what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love" (Gal 5:6). So, our religious practices should not be our efforts to obtain something from God, but an expression of our vital union with and faith in Jesus Christ ("I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me" Gal 2:20) and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: "Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit" (Gal 5:25).
Even though externally we recite the same prayers and do the same things, internally we accomplish them with another spirit, a totally different vision and mentality. We will discover that if we pray it is not because we are good people, and therefore we merit the complaisance of God and his Grace, but only because Jesus Christ is praying in me, with me and for me.
Similarly, our works of charity for the needy, especially the handicapped, is not another occasion to present to God our good deeds in order to obtain his bounty and favour, but they should be an expression of our love for God, therefore of our faith that wants to be alive and not dead.
I would like to give you three examples, in order of time.
Saint Daniel Comboni has not been proclaimed saint in recognition as the founder of the Church in Central Africa (Sudan) but, because he was a saint, he could establish the Church there.
In the same way, Saint John Bosco did not become a saint because he started a large and strong movement of people for the youth but, because he was a saint, he could realize those marvellous initiatives.
Finally, Mother Theresa of Calcutta did not become blessed because she took care of the poorest of the poor but, because she was a saintly woman, she could take care of the most in need.
The works of these three holy persons come from their intimate, constant and strong communion with God, a fruit of their faith in Jesus Christ and of their love for him.
Only if we have a profound communion with God can we change our mentality, can we pass from an attitude in which we are proud of our works to a new attitude where we recognize that we are sinners and in need of Godís mercy and love. This profound communion with God is explained in an extraordinary way in this passage of the Gospel of St. John:
"I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
Bears fruit in plenty;
For cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away
- he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown in the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you shall get it.
It is the glory of my Father that you should bear
and then you will be my disciples" (Jn 15:1-8).
Dear brothers and sisters, I wish you all including myself, to realize in our lives this deep communion with Jesus Christ, our only Saviour.
+ Camillo Ballin, mccj
Kuwait, 02 September,
Sixth Anniversary of my Episcopal Ordination.
Re-Organisation of the Two Vicariates of the Arabian Peninsula
By decree of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples the Vicariate of Kuwait and the Vicariate of Arabia (the two Vicariates of the Arabian Peninsula) have undergone a re-organization of territories and a modification of title with effect from May 31, 2011.
The Vicariate of Kuwait is now known as "The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia" and includes the territories of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, His Lordship Bishop Camillo Ballin, mccj, has assumed the title of "Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia".
The Vicariate of Arabia is now known as "The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia" and includes the territories of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Oman and Yemen. The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia is under the pastoral care of His Lordship Bishop Paul Hinder, OFM Cap. He has assumed the title of "Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia".
The two ecclesiastical territories have been re-organized due to the previous unequal distribution of the territories of the two Vicariates and also because both the Vicariates have been entrusted to the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM Cap.)
The two Vicariates have been re-organized after almost 58 years. The faithful are urged to keep this significant event in their prayers, at the same time asking the Lord for His blessing on both the Vicariates. May Our Lady of Arabia continue to intercede for us at this special time.