My dear priests, my dear brothers and sisters,
Peace be with you all!
It is still in our hearts the great joy that we experienced during our second Unity Congress. We have to thank God with all our mind, soul and strength because He helped us in a marvellous way. I felt that God was with us, encouraging us to be one, as Jesus Christ said during the last supper: "May they all be one" (Jn 17,21).
Unity as such was the theme of our First Unity Congress which we celebrated last year. A concrete follow up of that Congress was the institution of the Kuwait Pastoral Council (KPC). In consultation with the respective priests, I chose a number of brothers and sisters who form now, with the Parish priests, our Pastoral Council at the Vicariate level. We are in all 25 people, chosen from every Rite and language. It is the KPC who organised the Unity Congress of this year and I am very grateful to them for the big job they have done. Talks, logistics, cultural programs, liturgical celebrations, etc. were so well prepared that we did not face any sudden practical problem during the days of the Congress. An average of almost 400 people participated every day from November 09 to November 13 from 6 pm to 9 pm. The attendance of this year was much better than last year, which was only the first time that we celebrated a Unity congress, being this new initiative not known to the faithful. The theme of this year was Liturgy and the title: "Let us celebrate Him!".
We started every day with the celebration of the Eucharist according to one of the five Rites which are celebrated in our Cathedral: Latin, Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, Maronite, Coptic. For many of you this was the first time that you participated in the Eucharist of another Rite. Even though many of you have been here for many years, never you saw a Rite different from yours. This gives the impression that in Kuwait we are not yet a complete Catholic Church but many Catholic Churches beside each other. It is this reality that pushed me to take the initiative for the annual Unity Congress. This year we all felt much more the necessity for unity in our Church than the previous times. In fact, after the Congress I received from you many letters of appreciation and thanks for the extraordinary experience we shared together in the Unity Congress. The magisterial talks of Fr. Antony Nariculam, famous professor of Liturgy in Kochi, helped us a lot to put things in their place and to understand better what a Liturgical celebration is. Besides that, the extraordinary and fantastic exhibition showed the history of the five Rites and gave clearly the idea that a Rite is not only a way to pray but it is the expression of a Church, i.e. of a particular and living community which wants to praise God according to its way of understanding and practising the teachings of Jesus.
However, if we have to recognise, on the one hand, that this Unity Congress was very successful, we have, on the other hand, to look at it with an objective eye. I saw that Unity is not only our objective and a project but also a target to be achieved yet. We still have a long way to travel. I noticed, not without a sense of regret, that some people came just to attend the Eucharist of their own Rite and left immediately after that. They did not participate in the other programs of that day, nor of the other days. This is a negative point of which we must be aware. This very partial participation means that unity is not an interesting theme for some of you. However, as the Unity Congress of this year was much better than the one of last year, I am sure that the Unity Congress of next year will be much better than the one of this year, and so on... We have to establish the unity in our Church little by little, in spite of the speed limits caused by our own divisions and personal sins.
Let me now go to some of the basic subjects which have been pointed out in your group discussions after the talks of Fr. Antony.
1) The priest
We, the priests have to be more aware of our role in the celebrations. Even when we are at the altar facing the people, let us not forget that we are also turned towards God. Almost all the words we pronounce from the altar are addressed to God. The people understand immediately whether we are "executing something" or we are speaking with God. This requires that we should not arrive in the sacristy at the last moment, without any personal previous preparation for the Eucharist. This is a moment in which we must put literally into practice the commandment of Jesus: "Salute no one on the road" (Lk 10:4). This does not mean that we have to refuse to greet the people whom we meet on our way to the sacristy but to have there in the sacristy some time exclusively for our personal prayer. After that, we should also invite the other ministers and helpers to pray before the Eucharist. Eucharistic ministers, lectors and altar boys, all should have with us a prayer recited together as preparation to the Eucharist.
Your remark that the priests have to concentrate more on spiritual matters is very important and we should take it continuously into consideration. The apostle Peter saw that the administrative responsibilities were taking too much time from them, so he ordained the Seven Deacons and specified the mission of the apostles stating: "(We) continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word" (Acts 6:4).
You pointed out also the importance of the visit of the families by the priests. All our priests know my directions about these visits and the blessing of the houses. I have told them that these occasions should not be just a being-together speaking about many things, eating, etc. but a time of evangelization. After a familiar introduction, a celebration of the Word should be done. i.e: a prayer, a reading of a passage from the Bible, a catechesis, free intercessions, conclusion with "Our Father" and blessing of the family and of the house. Then, a human friendship can take place. When it is possible, the family which invites the priest, should invite also the neighbouring families. To celebrate together the Word of God is to invite Jesus to your house: "Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them" (Mt 18:20).
2) Role of the choir
Purpose of the choir is to support the assembly in singing the hymns. As I have said many times, polyphonic songs are banned from our churches. We are not there to assist a concert but to participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through praying, listening and singing. Choir must not dominate the assembly but should be at its service . It is not the choir which leads the celebration, but the priest.
And also, the parts of the Mass like "Lord have mercy", "Glory to God", "Holy Holy Holy", "Lamb of God" and especially "Our Father" have to be sung according to the prescribed text and not from any lyrics borrowed from profane music.
Our Catholic faith should be expressed with songs related to our own spiritual and ecclesial experience. I donít accept songs from non-Catholic Churches. This does not mean that I donít appreciate them, I only want to say that every Church has to be faithful to its own faith even in choice of hymns, because they are the expressions of what we believe and live.
In order to be clear that we are the Catholic Church, I insist again that the concluding hymn of every Mass be always a hymn to the Virgin Mary. It is not only to distinguish ourselves from others but also to put more and more into our mind that what we celebrated in the church cannot enter into our daily life without the special intercession of the Virgin Mary, our mother. So, we conclude our celebration of the Eucharist asking her to protect us during the following day and week.
Finally, we shall have very soon our own book of songs, all taken from the experience of our Catholic faith. All the parishes will choose their songs for any celebration in the church only from that book. Movements or gatherings which may like to have their special songs for their private meetings need the previous approval from the bishop.
When we pray we are speaking with God and not merely fulfilling a duty. So, our prayer should be meaningfully and meditatively said, not to be recited in haste. Especially when we say the "Our Father", let us not forget that it is the only prayer that Jesus Christ taught us. It is not my personal prayer, Jesus did not teach us to say: "My Father", but "Our Father", it is the prayer of the family of God united together around her Father. So, we should really pray slowly and together.
In the Eucharist, silence has to be a very important part of the celebration. One minute of silence after the homily is precious for meditating what we heard in the readings and in the homily. Silence after Communion is necessary in order to have a personal prayer with Jesus. The hymns must end at the end of the Communion distribution and some time is left for personal prayer.
In our parishes there is always a chapel for perpetual adoration. I notice with joy that there are people continously going to pray, even in Abbassiya where they have to enter into the private house of the priests. Our strength is prayer. Only a miracle can provide us a land in the boundaries of Jleeb al-Shuyoukh. We started a weekly "Novena" to Saint Daniel Comboni, patron of that mission (very soon a parish), in order not to spread a new devotion , but to obtain the favour of having a place of worship in that town. I am doing all that is in my power, but I see that only God can help us. So, I invite you all to be faithful to the life of prayer. You remarked that sometimes the chapels of perpetual adoration are not in order. Of course, we cannot appoint somebody to be there all the time to put things in order. It is your responsibility to keep the room clean. Please, donít leave there books of prayer. If you want to use your book, take it with you but after your prayer take it back with you also, donít leave it there for the others.
This zeal that I see for personal adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, I would like to see it also for prayer in your family. I know that many families still pray together, but in many other families only the parents pray together, their grown up children donít follow them. In this way you are preparing a secularised new generation, where God and many other important values of our human and Christian life are not any more so important. The family who prays together lives together. Many family problems could be avoided if all the members pray together. Especially in the Marian months of May and October, a splendid prayer in the family is the Holy Rosary recited all together. Donít forget that he who prays is saved!
4) The Spiritual life in the Parish
I appreciate very much your request to have regular retreats for the youth and also youth activities and follow-up programs. I know the difficulties to gather the youth, also because many of them are already engaged in various movements (Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Jesus Youth, Couples for Christ, El-Shaddai, Neo-Catechumenal Way, etc.), however I encourage every Parish priest to look into this matter and to present some concrete proposals.
You suggest also to have regular Bible study and Adult Catechism. I understand the need but I would like to avoid simple theoretical Bible study which does not help our life.
Also, I see that it is necessary to have in every Parish a counselling committee for marriage problems and for the children. They are not very few the children of our Parishes who have serious problems in their family. The spiritual retreat for children that we had last summer revealed a bitter reality. Parents and children are in need of continuous care from a body able to help them. A common policy of follow-up will be established in the Vicariate.
5) Inter-community relations
You noticed that the different communities are often separated from each other. To know the sickness is already a good step for healing. You pointed out that you feel the Arabs very far from you and you would like that they be closer to you. If it is not easy to join together all the Indians or Indians and Filipinos or Asians in general, it is more difficult to gather together Asians and Arabs. Differences of mentality, traditions and Rites are there. The KPC is already a body in which every community is represented and can communicate its needs to the others. The participation of the KPC members to the meetings and their involvement in the common initiatives has been until now very good and this is another sign that we are walking in the right way towards unity. Of course, a long way is before me, before my successors and before us all. Our Church is on the way to unity but it is still far from reaching it.
You suggest to have more meetings among the groups. I think that it is a good idea. We shall see with the KPC how to realise it. A Parish Annual Day in multilingual, as you suggested, is a good initiative to be considered.
In order to achieve a better unity in our Church, it is necessary that every community informs the others about its activities. This does not mean that the communication has to be given to the bishop personally. I encourage the institution of a Parish Council in every Parish, where the criteria of choosing the members should be the same of the choice made for the KPC members: two persons from every Rite and country. To avoid individualism, I ask the priests of every Parish to meet regularly (at least monthly), to communicate with each other the mutual programs and problems and especially to plan the visits to the families. In our Vicariate a priest is not first of all the priest of his community but a priest of the Catholic Church, so he should meet the faithful and visit the families regardless of their Rite and nationality, but he has also to share his experience with the priest who is more related to the particular community of people whom he met. Especially in the Cathedral, where there are many communities in the same place, a monthly meeting of the Parish Priest with the other priests is absolutely necessary. In every Parish a multi-nationality membersí involvement in the ministries is to be assured. For example, Eucharistic ministers have to be available for any Mass and not only for the Mass of their Rite or language. The same is applicable the other offices as well: ushers, altar boys, etc.
Another sign of unity can expressed participating together in the feasts of the others. I noticed that when there is a feast for the Indians, for example St. Thomas or St. Alphonsa, all the Indians are there but very few are the other Asians and there are no Arabs at all, and vice versa for the feasts of the Arabs. In our second Unity Congress we attended to Masses in all the five Rites celebrated in our Cathedral, but after that I doubt that you attended a Mass in a Rite different from yours. Unity Congress should not be a bracket in our life but the beginning of a new attitude towards others which should be characteristic of all our life.
A ministry which needs really a common participation is the visit to the sick in the hospitals and the prisons. Until now this ministry is mainly confined only to some Asians.
My dear priests, dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for your patience with me. May God give you courage, strength and love. In one word, may God give you and give us all his Holy Spirit!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!
+ Camillo Ballin, mccj
Bishopís House, Kuwait City, 22nd December 2009