Dear Reverend Fathers, Sisters, dear brothers and sisters of the Vicariate of Kuwait,
Peace be with you!
I am writing this letter to you after our Unity Congress with a heart full of joy and thanksgiving to God for His very special assistance throughout our Unity Congress. It was really an explosion and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit! We could remain together, pray and discuss for three days and during that time, nobody felt that she or he was not included. I thank you all, priests, sisters and lay people for your participation and your personal involvement. In particular, I want to thank the Committee and the sub-committees which planned and prepared the various programs for our Congress with a true sense of responsibility. A special thanks to the speakers: Mr. C.V. Joseph, Fr. Peter Madros and Fr. Tony DíSousa, sdb. I thank the moderators, the secretaries, the choir, the photographers, those who served the meals and all the collaborators. A grateful thanks to Bishop Paul Hinder for having supported our Congress and sent Mrs. Catherine Miles-Flynn and Mr. Frank McGarry to represent the Vicariate of Arabia. Above all, we have to thank God because He has been with us all the time and we realized once more that it is in Him that we live and move and exist (Acts 17,28).
The purpose of my present letter is to highlight the main points which drew our attention in the Unity Congress and to give them the necessary follow-up.
1. The Holy Bible
Even though the theme of our Unity Congress was UNITY, and for that we chose as our motto "They may be oneÖ" (Jn.17:22), the subject which was more impressive to all has been the knowledge of the Holy Bible. This is proof that the Holy Spirit was guiding us, all through the very rare skill of Fr. Peter Madros, and took us to reflect upon the Word of God which, with the Sacraments, is the foundation of our unity. So, God wanted that we start from the base! We know why seven books of the Old Testament have not been accepted by the Jews and, for various reasons, by the Protestants too. They call them "Apocrypha", a term which for us means "a not inspired book", meanwhile all those seven books are considered by the Catholic Church as inspired like the others. This made us aware and attentive to the falsified doctrines and to misinterpretations of the Bible. A Bible is Catholic when it has on the first page the "Imprimatur" (permission for printing) and all the books are in their own place. Some editions of the Bible put the seven books all together at the end of the Old Testament. That is not a Catholic edition. I have instructed our Resource Center to provide for our Churches only Catholic Bibles, i.e. The New Jerusalem Bible, The New American Bible, The CTS New Catholic Bible.
Going deeper, we have to meditate on what the Bible is for us. As you suggested, it should be the basis of our preaching. This means that before starting to prepare our homily we have to pray for a short time privately asking God to send us His Holy Spirit in order to understand what the readings tell us, for our personal life. Then, we should read the readings slowly and perhaps more than once. Reading of the parallel verses or of other related verses reported in the foot notes, should be constantly interposed with personal prayer. It is only after we discover what God wants to tell us that we can have access to the commentaries of theologians or Bible scholars. The Word of God has always something to tell us personally, so we have to know this before looking for written commentaries.
I would like to quote a very beautiful passage from the speech of the Holy Father for the opening of the Synod on the Word of God: "We are always searching for the Word of God. It is not merely present in us. Just reading it does not mean necessarily that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we only see the human words and do not find the true actor within, the Holy Spirit. We cannot find the Word in the words. Saint Augustine, in this context, recalls the scribes and Pharisees consulted by Herod when the Magi arrived. Herod wants to know where the Savior of the world would be born. They know this, they give the correct answer: in Bethlehem. They are great specialists, who know everything. However they do not see reality, they do not know the Savior. Saint Augustine says: they are signs on the road for the others, but they themselves do not move. This is a great danger as well in our reading of the Scriptures: we stop at the human words, words form the past, history of the past, and we do not discover the present in the past, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us today with the words from the pastÖ Let us pray to the Lord that He may help us to look for the Word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence".
You have suggested also that we have courses, seminars and retreats based on the Holy Bible. I will keep in mind this suggestion especially for the Lenten retreats. Courses and seminars are good and useful but we have to avoid remaining only at the intellectual level. These courses should help us not only to know the Bible better but also to prompt us to meditate on the Word of God, to discover its message for our lives today.
Bible Quiz has to be encouraged for people of all ages. We already have a Bible Quiz for children. As far as I know, we see the same initiative for the adults among the Malayalees and the Filipinos only. It should be extended to all the other groups also. But, once again let me repeat that, even the Bible Quiz for children, and more for the adults, should not be limited only to knowing many things about the Bible but it should introduce everyone to a personal meditation on the Bible. If we reserve ten minutes every day to read and meditate on a passage of the Bible (especially the New Testament), we shall see that gradually our life will be changed: The Word of God is creative, It does what It says: For as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and do not return before having watered the earth, fertilizing and making it germinate to provide seed for the sower and food to eat, so it is the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do (Is. 55:10-11).
2. Formation of Adults and Youth
In our Vicariate we have all the normal courses of Catechism for children, which are given in collaboration with the Vicariate of Arabia. This year we also started formation for youth at the Parish and Vicariate level. I thank God for the presence of the Salesians of Don Bosco in our Vicariate; the formation of youth is their specific charisma. Unfortunately we have very little for the formation of the adults, which normally is limited to the Lenten retreats, Night Vigils, Novenas and Feasts. It is true that many of our adults are members in the different Ecclesial modern movements and they receive a good formation there. I therefore encourage all the movements that are in our Vicariate. But the problem remains for those who donít participate in any movement. On the one hand, I see that a Catechesis systemically organized for the adults as a necessity; on the other hand I face the problem of the limitation in our personnel, especially the number of priests. Our space and our possibilities are limited and we have to organize our pastoral work accordingly. However, this is a point that I shall study seriously with my collaborators, priests and lay people. I know that many lay people would be ready to do many things (to conduct prayer groups, to teach important subjects, etc.), but how to prepare these volunteers? Before forming the others, they themselves need to be formed.
We have in our Apostolate several good opportunities for the formation of adults: the preparation for marriage and for baptism. But, once again, I stress on the necessity that those who prepare fiancťs, parents and godparents should also personally have a deep spiritual formation. People understand immediately if we communicate to them information about the Catholic or Christian doctrine or if we speak from our personal experience with Jesus Christ. If we donít convey a profound spirituality, people will take refuge in a misleading religious devotion.
The idea is clear: to lead our lay faithful towards a more personal life with Jesus Christ. How do we achieve this aim? Among all that we are doing now, I have to stress on that which offers an itinerary of Catholic formation valid for our society and for modern times.
3. Unity in Diversity
The aim of our "Unity Congress" was exactly this: we notice that our Vicariate is formed of many communities. Very often we have in our Vicariate many Catholic Churches besides each other but we donít have ONE Catholic Church.
ONE doesnít mean uniformity. I have never thought to depreciate or discourage the celebration of other Liturgies and to assimilate all to the Latin Rite. By the decision of the Pope, I am in charge of all the Catholics and all the Rites in Kuwait. But it is also my duty to help everyone, according to his origin, spirituality, traditions, culture and mentality, to be molded to the pattern of his Son (Rom. 8:29), Jesus Christ.
So, what is unity? It is essentially communion. Communion between the Bishop and the priests and between the Bishop, the priests and the lay faithful. Any division between the Bishop and the priests will have as a consequence a deep division in the Church. Any division from the lay faithful is hell for all.
Communion requires good will and openness. Many of us donít know the Rites of the others. We have in our Church at least four worlds: Indians (and their neighbors: Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, etc.), Filipinos, Arabs and Europeans. To establish communion among these four worlds is our commitment. But we can do nothing if there is no effort from all to meet and know the others. I notice that usually every group is closed in itself: they have their Liturgy, their priest, their committee, their life. Arabs often call the Latin Mass in English as "The Mass of the Indians", however these are not only Indians attending but people from many countries of Asia. Asians call the Mass in Arabic as "The Mass of the Arabs". The Europeans donít say anything, for the simple reason that in general they are not interested in any religious activity, prayer, meeting. They are very far from the Church. How do we evangelize them? It is another problem that we should study together.
Very often we donít know each other, neither the Rite of the others, nor are we interested in taking any step towards the others. How do we form a communion in the multi-cultural and multi-ritual Catholic Church of Kuwait? We have to clarify in our hearts and minds the meaning of our faith. Before belonging to a particular nationality or Rite, we belong to Jesus Christ. It is He who unites us in Him. St. Paul says: There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female Ė for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:29). We should not say: "You are my brother because you are of my Rite" but "You are my brother because both you and me, we belong to Jesus Christ". What unites us is not the Rite but our belonging to Jesus Christ. A belonging based first of all on a Rite doesnít form communion but divisions. If we donít have this conviction in our heart, any initiative to promote communion among us will necessarily fail.
The Unity Congress members suggested having multi-language liturgies on special occasions. More than that, I think that we should have some times per year only one Liturgy for all the Rites also. This means that everybody should renounce for that time to his own Liturgy and share the Liturgy of the others. I know that Liturgy is a special sensitive point and, as Bishop, I have to respect them all. But it is because I am the Bishop that I have the responsibility to create unity in the Church. This is not for the purpose of strengthening my authority but only to put into practice the prayer of Jesus Christ: They may be one (Jn. 17:22), which was the motto of our Unity Congress. If I insist on the necessity of unity it is only because this is the commandment of Jesus Christ which I must also obey.
The Unity Congress also suggested more obedience to the unifying authority of the Church, Pope and Bishop. This is another very sensitive point. Every one of us should know the decisions of the Pope concerning the Gulf, that the only authority is in the two resident Bishops. The document has been published in my pastoral letter of last year. I would like to ask: can you say that you are obeying the Pope? Donít answer me, but your conscience!
Obedience to the local Bishop is necessary if we want to create unity in our Church. In fact, the Bishop is the sign of unity in a Church. I thank all those who during these three years collaborated sincerely with me. Others are still too much independent of the Bishop. There are Associations and Committees which consider themselves first responsible to their community and they act accordingly. No, the first person responsible for any pastoral work is only the Bishop. All the Associations and Committees should remain in communion with him; they cannot ignore him. I thank those Associations which are constantly in contact with me and I hope that others will follow their example. I am sad to say that some of our faithful invite famous priests and conduct meetings and prayers in private places and they know that those priests have been prevented by me to do anything in our Vicariate. Any priest coming to Kuwait must have the permission of the Bishop (or of his Vicar General) before doing anything in our Vicariate. Disobedience to this particular point creates misunderstandings and divisions in our Church.
Let us take very seriously this challenge of Unity in Diversity because if we fail in it we fail to follow Jesus Christ and we are salt without taste: It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled under peopleís feet (Mt. 5:13). On the contrary, if we open our heart to Jesus Christ, He will create communion among us and our Church will be salt for the earth and light for the world (Mt 5:13-14).
Wider vision and mission
This point had not been raised during the Unity Congress but I would like to mention it. We began to enlarge our vision and mission in 2006 when, on 28 July, we erected the new Parish of Salmiya. To recognize the precious Apostolate performed for many years by the Carmelite Fathers, I put the new Parish under the protection of a great Carmelite saint: Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus. Before, in Salmiya we had a chapel and the priest in charge was based in the Cathedral premises. Since it became a Parish, with two priests resident in a flat in front of the church, the number of the faithful increased very much. Saint Theresa, patroness of the missions, is doing her work very well.
On September 24, 2008, we blessed the new residence of three priests in Abbassiya. Their presence there is very precious for the many thousands of faithful that we have in that town. It is a new mission, without church and without parish, and I wanted to put it under the protection and intercession of a great missionary: Saint Daniel Comboni, the founder of the Church in the Sudan. I entrusted him the task to provide us a land and a new church in that area.
But, what about the other towns of Kuwait like Jahra and Wafra? We have not taken care of the Christians living there. Some of them come to our parish in Ahmadi, but I am sure that many are left alone. We should study together what can be done there. Perhaps we could start with a school to be managed by a religious congregation?
We are missionaries, so we are called to have a wider vision of our mission in Kuwait. God brought us here not by chance but because He has a plan for us and for the people He has entrusted to us. Courage! Duc in altum! Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch! (Lk.5:4).
The points I exposed so far are the main ones. Many others were raised up during the Unity Congress and I would like to study all of them. For that I need a body to help me in my task as the first person in charge of the Catholic Churchís mission in Kuwait. This body is what is normally called "Pastoral Council" and it is regulated by the Law of the Church (called "Canon Law") as follows:
Can. 511 In each Diocese Ö a pastoral council is to be established. In function and under the authority of the Bishop, it is to study and weigh those matters which concern the pastral works in the diocese, and to propose practical conclusions concerning them.
Can 512 A pastoral council is composed of members of Christís faithful who are in full communion with the Catholic Church Ö and selected in such a way that the council truly reflects the entire portion of the people of God which constitutes the diocese.
Can 513 The pastoral council has only a consultative vote.
Following the advice of the Committee which prepared the Unity Congress and of other people, the Pastoral Council of the Catholic Church in Kuwait will be formed of:
Bishop, the 3 Parish Priests, 1 Priest in charge of Abbassiya mission, 2 Maronites, 2 Arabs, 2 Syro-Malabars, 2 Syro-Malankara, 2 Tagalogs, 2 Konkanis, 2 Latin Malayalees, 1 Tamil, 1 Sri Lankan, 1 Bangladeshi, 1 Pakistani, 1 Korean, 1 African, 1 Italian, 1 French, 1 Polish.
The movements are not represented as such in the Pastoral Council, nor is the Pastoral Council to deal with them; they rely directly only on the Bishop himself.
Dear Fathers, dear Sisters, dear brothers and sisters, the field before us is very large, The harvest is rich (Mt. 9:37), Harvest time has come! (Rev. 14:15).
Let us work together, hand in hand, in the Lordís vineyard and let us invoke Him:
Visit this vineyard, protect what your own hand has planted!
+ Camillo Ballin, mccj
Kuwait, 10th October, 2008