||History of the Church in Kuwait ......|
The Catholic community in Kuwait has been growing steadily from its very small beginnings, The Catholic Church in Kuwait has always been blessed to have zealous and dedicated priests and a congregation of fervent and devout parishioners, besides, the rich diversity of the people in terms of culture, language and practicing of the faith (the different rites) have enriched the Church in this part of the world. In a place with a floating population of migrant workers, it is not possible to establish the Church with full-fledged institutions of its own, however, with the sincere and generous co-operation of the clergy and the faithful, we have made tremendous strides in every spiritual aspect of Catholic life.
||A Timeline of Significant Events ...|
Here are some of the significant events that impacted the establishment and growth of the Catholic Church in Kuwait ...
The Bible speaks ...
"Through you, I will bring light to the nations." -- Isaiah 42: 6
1911 The first Catholics to set foot on Kuwait soil were probably Portuguese sailors at the port of Al Qurain. These Portuguese perhaps had no priest with them to minister to their spiritual needs, and there is no record of any chaplains in the service of the Royal Portuguese Navy having touched Kuwait. If any did, they could have come from Bahrain where a Chapel was in use for half a century.
1934 The finding of oil and the consequent establishment of an oil company marked a new era in this land. Catholics were few then, being employed mainly at the Political Agency and later, also at the Gray Mackenzie Shipping Line. The Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), a US-British joint venture, having obtained a concession for oil exploration in 1934, recruited employees from overseas. The first wells were sunk in 1936.
1945 By the end of 1945, quite a few Catholics, especially from India, Lebanon and Europe, had arrived in Kuwait. Ahmadi was the centre of oil production, and gradually people began to settle there. Of these Catholics, it could be said, that they were inclined to practise their faith openly and church-going for them was instinctive and natural. The Company applied for a priest to say the Christmas Mass for them. So, a Jesuit Father, Rev. Fr. James Larkin, from the Baghdad College, reached here, after an adventurous journey, on Christmas eve. According to Church records, the first Mass, a historical event, was celebrated on Christmas morning in 1945, in a tent in Magua.
1946 Rev. Fr. Carmel Spiteri, a priest from the Carmelite Mission in Basra would periodically visit Kuwait to look after the spiritual requirements of the Catholics here. Fr. Spiteri was indeed, the first apostle of Kuwait. Soon after his first visit, he organized the original nucleus of the parish in Ahmadi. On 26th April 1946, he established a Presidium of the Legion of Mary, giving it the significant title of "Rosa Mystica". The Church committee which he founded, enhanced considerably the spiritual life of the few Catholics living there at that time. The following Easter, Mass was celebrated in the Kuwait town office of Gray Mackenzie and Co. and thereafter for many months, Mass was celebrated in the Chapel of the American Mission Hospital.
1947 With the great influx of Catholics, the KOC management was approached with a request for a Chaplain. This request was met with sympathy and understanding, so when, on 31st December 1947, the Very Rev. Fr. Vicar General of the Carmelite Order arrived in Ahmadi during his Canonical Visitation of the Iraq missions, everything was settled for the installation of a resident priest.
1948 On 5th April 1948, the first resident priest, Rev. Fr. Teofano Ubaldo Stella, OCD, arrived in Kuwait, by which time the faithful numbered around 700. He was employed by the Kuwait Oil Company as Chaplain for its Catholic personnel. Thereafter, Mass was said once a week on Fridays, in the cinema hall and soon another was added on Sunday mornings in Ahmadi. It is only necessary to read the early issues of "The Kuwaiti" to see the progress of Catholic life: First Fahaheel, then Wafra and other out-stations had a regular weekly Mass. During the following summer, permission was given to say a weekly evening Mass, and, as opportunity offered, even at the far-off camps at Menageesh.
But there was no Church or Chapel yet! The Kuwait Oil Company felt obliged to provide facilities for religious worship to its workers to make them feel at home. Thus, the first provisional Church came into being, when Fr. Stella obtained from KOC, a Nissen shed, which he transformed into a Chapel. This shed had served as an electricity power station which was later abandoned and left empty when the company bought bigger generators which needed a larger area.
Though its location near the main office building on the Ridge was ideal, not many of the Catholic faithful shared Fr. Stella's enthusiasm, as the shed was in a very poor condition. However, thanks to the tireless perseverance and enormous dedication of Fr. Stella and the faithful, a decent and neat Chapel was ready for worship towards the end of November 1948. The Ecclesiastical authority granted permission to have it blessed and to be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia & St. Elias the Prophet; to the Blessed Virgin first, because this was the first Church in the territory to be dedicated to the great Mother of God, and to St. Elias the Prophet, because he is greatly honored by the Arabs, especially in Palestine on Mount Carmel. The ceremony of dedication was performed by Rev. Fr. Spiteri on the evening of 8th December 1948.
1949 - 1950 An important event in the history of the Parish at Ahmadi was the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of His Holiness the Pope on 1st April 1949, when the Apostolic Delegate for Iraq, the Most Rev. Msgr. Du Chayla visited Kuwait. At the Chapel, His Grace administered Confirmation to several of the faithful and Mass on the following morning was said in the cinema hall where His Grace appeared deeply moved when he distributed Holy Communion to over 500 people.
In addition to a short visit in October 1948, he came here again in February 1950 - a few days after his appointment as Bishop. His first official visitation in December of the same year was marked by a solemn reception at the Church and by the presentation to His Highness, the Ruler of Kuwait, the decoration of Knight Commander, with a plaque of the Order of Pius, granted by His Holiness Pope Pius XII, in recognition of the protection which His Highness bestowed on the members of our faith.
1951 The increase in the Catholic population called for an increase in ministrations. So in March 1951, another priest, Rev. Fr. A. A. Clavenna, came to this land to assist Fr. Stella.
1953 Till then, The Catholic Church in Kuwait was within the territorial jurisdiction of the prelate of Aden. The Holy See approving of the flourishing state of this new, if small Catholic centre, on 30th June 1953, Pope Pius XII separated and erected it into an independent Prefecture Apostolic and entrusted it to the Order of the Discalced Carmelites as territory separated from the Vicariate Apostolic of Arabia which had been entrusted to the Order of the Franciscan Capuchin Friars. Fr. Stella was installed as Prefect Apostolic. The joy with which the new elevation was welcomed, imparted even greater impetus to the religious activities. The attendance at Sunday Masses became more and more imposing. In the town (Kuwait City), too, a new centre of religious life was provided and the coming of a third resident priest, Rev. Fr. Herman Mizzi, a Maltese Carmelite, proved providential. He began to look after the spiritual care of the small Catholic population in Kuwait Town and soon established a residence there. Until this time, the Fathers in Ahmadi had commuted between their base and the capital, particularly on Sunday evenings to celebrate Mass.
1954 On 2nd December 1954, the Holy Father Pope Pius XII raised Kuwait to become a Bishopric (Vicariate Apostolic). It was entirely unexpected, but was acclaimed as a well deserved gesture.
1955 On 8th September 1955, the cornerstone was laid for the Church of Our Lady of Arabia by Bishop Elect Monsignor Stella. In Ahmadi, a bright future was assured by the new Church. A token of the wonderful progress of Catholic life in Kuwait can be found in the figures of the Holy Communions. While in 1948, the recorded figure from August till the end of December was 1,171, for that year (1955) there was a total of 25,647.
This year was remarkable in more ways than one. Kuwait's first Bishop, Monsignor Stella, was consecrated Bishop on 3rd October 1955 in Milan. He was accompanied by a sizeable delegation of his parishioners from Kuwait to witness this memorable event.
1956 On Easter Sunday, 1st April 1956, Bishop Stella blessed the new Church of Our Lady of Arabia in Ahmadi. The beautiful Church in central Ahmadi is a generous gift from the Kuwait Oil Company. It replaced the first Chapel on the Ridge which had served the community until 1955.
1957 Around that time, Kuwait City was developing, and a great majority of Christians were concentrated there. H.H. Sheikh Abdullah Al Salim Al Sabah, when approached on the idea of the Cathedral, very graciously granted Bishop Stella use of the land where the Cathedral now stands. Bishop Stella chose 27th January as the day for the laying of the first stone of the Cathedral. The Cathedral was built under the Bishop's leadership with the co-operation of the Catholics and the Church in Ahmadi. Mindful of the transient stay of the community in general, Bishop Stella decided to dedicate the Cathedral to "The Holy Family in the Desert". He felt that this title would keep before the Catholics the thought, that the Holy Family itself had to spend a time in exile in order that God's Will be fulfilled.
1959 Around this time, a small community of Catholics had begun to grow in the suburban district of Salmiya. Lack of proper facilities for commuting to and from the city rendered it difficult for the faithful to attend the weekly services at the Cathedral. The availability of Indian schools in the area was one reason why a number of families settled there. Vast distances from Kuwait City (wherein is situated the Holy Family Cathedral), as well as in-sufficient transport facilities to and from the city might have contributed to a growing need for a place of worship so that the Catholic faithful could perform their weekly religious obligation. Thus, the first weekly Holy Mass was celebrated at Salmiya on Tuesday, 3rd November 1959 by Bishop Stella at the suggestion of Mr. Archie Menezes, a parishioner, at whose residence the Mass was celebrated. The strength of the faithful at that time was around 40 but it gradually increased to almost 80 especially in the summer months when the service was held on the terrace.
1961 On 16th March 1961, Bishop Stella blessed the Holy Family Cathedral and the ceremony was completed with the first Mass.
On 19th June 1961, Kuwait became an independent state.
Bishop Stella invited the Rosary Sisters from Jordan and Lebanon to start a school in Kuwait. The Fajer Al Sabah School was initiated in 1961, coinciding with the year of Kuwait's Independence. The school started with 204 students of Kindergarten and Primary Stages.
1964 In order to meet further education needs, in 1964, Bishop Stella brought the Chaldean Sisters, Daughters of the Immaculate Conception from Iraq to open another school, the Al-Amal School. The Sisters had to leave Kuwait because of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990.
1966 In accordance with the dictates of the Carmelite Order, Bishop Stella was recalled from his assignment in Kuwait in 1966. Appointed to succeed him as Apostolic Administrator of Kuwait, was Monsignor Victor Sanmiguel, a Discalced Carmelite of the province of Navarre. He arrived in Kuwait on 4th June 1966 to shepherd a flock of about 17,000 Catholics of more than 40 nationalities speaking as many as 25 different languages. His prime concern was to be "a common Father to everyone without any kind of distinction and to work for the welfare of all" ... a task in which he greatly succeeded during his fifteen pastoral years in Kuwait. The Monsignor, to his credit, did much to develop a diplomatic association between the Kuwaiti Government and the Holy See. He took a personal interest in the Catholic Schools, catechism classes were started and several parish organisations were formed, such as, the Altar Boy's Sodality and the Charismatic prayer group.
1967 Meanwhile, as the number of parishioners in Salmiya grew, new premises were secured for the Chapel in Salmiya, and it was used until 1970, when Mr. Menezes managed to acquire a villa with a garage and a courtyard which was later converted into a big hall sufficient to accommodate over 100 parishioners.
1968 The prescriptions of the Second Vatican Council concerning the renewal of the Liturgy were fully carried out throughout the Church. The people as a whole, took these changes seriously because of the simplification, and use of the vernacular language being permitted in the celebration of the Mass.
1969 On 27th March 1969, a pioneering band of four Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel from India landed in Kuwait at the invitation of the Indian expatriates and Msgr. Sanmiguel. On 8th April 1969, the Carmel School made its debut with just four students on roll, in a little rented apartment at Shamiyeh. In order not to disappoint the Arab community whose adolescent boys were not accepted in Fager Al-Sabah School, the Monsignor started the Iktlas School, an Intermediate and Secondary school for Arab-speaking boys. The Monsignor also brought to Kuwait, the Sisters of the Holy Family from India and the Carmelite Missionary from the Philippines who took up nursing positions in private hospitals and clinics.
In April 1969, traditional cordial relations between the Holy See and the State of Kuwait were formally strengthened by the establishment of diplomatic relations.
1973 In May 1973, the Greek Catholic parish came into existence. Church Services were conducted in a separate Chapel which was rented.
1974 The present premises for the Chapel in Salmiya were secured in January 1974. Monsignor Sanmiguel agreed to bear the expense of renovating the new place and on Wednesday, 5th February 1974, he performed the opening ceremony of the new Chapel. He dedicated the Chapel to the Holy Redeemer.
1976 After ten years as Pastor, with the title of Apostolic Administrator, Monsignor Sanmiguel was consecrated as Bishop on 16th July 1976 in Baghdad. The ceremony which was beautiful, unique and unforgettable, was attended, among others, by Monsignor Stella, the retired Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait.
1982 Bishop Victor Sanmiguel retired at the beginning of 1982 at the age of 78, he returned to India from where he had come. Monsignor Francis George Micallef OCD, Kuwait's third Catholic Bishop, took charge of the Vicariate on 15th January 1982, where he serves as Shepherd of the Flock till this day. During the years of the Bishop's episcopate, there has been a remarkable transformation within the Church in Kuwait. His zeal for the spiritual welfare of the faithful, especially of the children, is evident in the manner in which the catechism classes and children's Masses are conducted. He has succeeded in drawing out the best from the youth to the extent of inspiring a few of them to serve God in the priesthood.
1990 Kuwait was invaded and occupied for seven long months by the Iraqi military on 2nd August 1990. The ghastly Iraqi aggression and invasion on Kuwait had a devastating effect on Kuwait. Unimaginable acts of violence were perpetrated against its peaceful citizens. Ahmadi was particularly badly affected. Bishop Francis Micallef braved all dangerous circumstances and celebrated Mass either in a house or in the Church. Rev. Fr. Mizzi carried on bravely trying to protect the Church from acts of violence. Inspite of this, the Statue of Our Lady of Arabia was pushed down and broken by unknown persons. It was later restored by parishioners. The Church and the Priests' house sustained damages as a result of bombs dropped on houses nearby.
1991 Kuwait was liberated from the Iraqi aggressors, and the Church bell rang in Kuwait City, in celebration of this event. Slowly, yet steadily, the damage to the Church was repaired with help from volunteers.
1997 Among the important changes that occurred in the Vicariate, post Iraq war, was that Kuwait once again experienced a surge in the number of workers. A significant increase in the Catholic population made Bishop Francis Micallef observe that the Cathedral was insufficient to accommodate the steadily growing Catholic congregation. He decided that it was time for an expansion of the older building which had earlier housed a plain hall and the living quarters for the Bishop and the clergy. The "new" Cathedral Complex, which is the inspiration and achievement of the present Bishop, was inaugurated on 15th October 1997.
2000 The Vicariate marked the Great Jubilee Year with renewed spiritual fervour as was evident in the manner in which the various events were conducted throughout the year in the three parishes.
Since the beginning of the Year 2000, the Vatican started to have a resident Nuncio in Kuwait who is also appointed as Apostolic Delegate for the Gulf States and Apostolic Nuncio to Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar.
On 8th September 2000, the new Bishop's Residence was blessed and inaugurated. Also, during this year, plans for the new extension hall of the Ahmadi Church were finally sanctioned. The addition of the new hall to the existing Church was a generous gift from the Kuwait Government and the Kuwait Oil Company to the faithful. Laying of the foundation for the annexe started in October of the same year.
The web-site of the Vicariate Apostolic of Kuwait www.catholic-church.org/kuwait was officially launched on 8th September 2000. The web-site proved to be an excellent resource for all.
2001 The inauguration and opening ceremony of the new extension hall of the Ahmadi Church was held on 17th April 2001.
The year was also a providential one for the Salmiya parish, as the Holy Redeemer Chapel underwent a major renovation. The remodeling and extension of the existing Chapel was the culmination of more than twelve months of planning and anticipation, although actual construction had been underway for less than three months. Following the closure of the Chapel premises for almost six months, the new extended Chapel with annexe was inaugurated and blessed by Bishop Francis Micallef on 8th June 2001.
2002 The Salesians of Don Bosco opened their first English language school in Kuwait called the Indian English Academy School. It was started in April 2002 under the administrative guidance of the Bombay Salesian Society affiliated to the Don Bosco Organisation.
2004 The year 2004 was the "Year of Jubilees" in the Vicariate, as we had the rare privilege of celebrating two Golden Jubilees, that of the Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait, Bishop Francis Micallef, on 8th May, and the Golden Jubilee of the founding of the Vicariate of Kuwait on 2nd December. The Church has always celebrated Jubilees. We call them Holy Years, because they are dedicated in a special way to God..
In October 2004, the Christian Churches Fellowship in Kuwait was officially restarted, following the approved official "constitution" by the member Churches regarding its structure and operation.
2005 Bishop Francis Micallef retired in July. He was succeeded by Msgr. Camillo Ballin, a Comboni Missionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On September 2nd, 2005, Msgr. Camillo Ballin, MCCI, was ordained Bishop in the Holy Family Cathedral, Kuwait City by His Eminence Crescenzio Cardinal Sepe, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. During the cermony, he was installed as the fourth Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait.
2006 Following a Decree on 28 July 2006, by His Lordship Bishop Camillo Ballin, MCCI, Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait, the name of the Holy Redeemer Chapel was changed to "Church of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus", at the same time canonically erecting it into a Parish (Canon 515). The Parish comprises of the following areas: Messila, Ras Salmiya, Salwa, Rumaithiya, Maidan Hawally, Sabah Al Salem, Mishref and Bayan. Rev. Fr. Berchmans Aruldoss, OCD, was installed as the first Parish Priest.
2008 H.L. Bishop Camillo Ballin, MCCJ, declares open the Comboni mission centre in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh (Abbassiya) on 24th September 2008. St. Daniel Comboni has been proclaimed its patron.
2009 Jus Commissionis The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples issued the decree by which, on May 31, 2009, the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor was entrusted with the “Jus Commissionis” (pastoral responsibility and authority) of the Apostolic Vicariate of Kuwait.
2010 On 29th January 2010, our fourth parish was blessed and canonically erected by His Lordship Camillo Ballin, MCCJ, during the concelebrated Mass in the parish church at Jleeb Al-Shuyouk, Kuwait. The parish has been dedicated to Saint Daniel Comboni, Bishop and Founder of the Congregation of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus. As part of the event, Rev. Fr. Albert Saveriraj, OCD, was installed as the (first) Parish Priest. According to the episcopal decree, areas included in the new Parish are: Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh, Dhaieel, Airport, Wista, Subhan and Qurain 1, 2, 3 & 4. The Comboni parish began as a humble mission centre in Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh (Abbassiya) on 24th September 2008 when St. Daniel Comboni was proclaimed its patron.
2011 On 5th January 2011, the Holy See officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia Patroness of both the Vicariates in the Arabian Peninsula: The Vicariate Apostolic of Kuwait and the Vicariate Apostolic of Arabia. A Solemnity in her honour will henceforth be celebrated on Saturday preceding the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time with the permission to celebrate it also on Sunday. HIS EMINENCE CARDINAL ANTONIO CAÑIZARES LLOVERA (Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) arrived in Kuwait to personally inaugurate the special occasion.
2011 With effect from May 31, 2011, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples decreed that the Vicariate of Kuwait and the Vicariate of Arabia would undergo a reorganisation of territories and a modification of title. The Vicariate of Kuwait is now called "The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia" and includes the territories of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, the present Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait, His Lordship Bishop Camillo Ballin, MCCJ, has assumed the title of "Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia".
||Looking to the Future: starting afresh from Christ ...|
As a new stage of the Church's journey begins, our hearts ring out with the words of Jesus, when one day, after speaking to the crowds from Simon's boat, he invited the Apostle to "put out into the deep" for a catch: "Duc in altum" (Luke 5:4). Peter and his first companions trusted Christ's words, and cast the nets. "When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish" (Luke 5:6).
Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8).
A new century, a new millennium are opening in the light of Christ. But not everyone can see this light. Ours is the wonderful and demanding task of becoming its "reflection" ... to express what Christ himself said when he called himself the "light of the world" (John 8:12) and asked his disciples to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).
Let us go forward in hope, relying on the help of Christ. "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20). This assurance which has accompanied the Church for two thousand years has now been renewed in our hearts!
"Starting afresh from Christ" adapted from the Apostolic Letter "NOVO MILLENNIO INEUNTE" of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.