"The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." (-John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).

"Where the bishop is, there let the people gather; just as where ever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church". -St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca 110 AD)a martyr later thrown to the lions, wrote to a church in Asia Minor. Antioch was also where the term "Christian" was first used.

“But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15

"This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic." -CCC 811

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Catholic Church and Catholics in Islamic States

Photo Source: AmericanCatholic
Amidst persecution and threats from extremists in the Islamic states in the Middle East, the Catholic Church of Christ is vibrant, being animated by Catholic Arabs who maintained their Catholic identity for centuries. In some Islamic States, Catholic expatriates witness Christ in their daily lives as overseas workers from Asian third world countries.

Thanks to the Pontificate of Benedict XVI, the Successor of St. Peter, who reaches out to non-Catholics and non-Christians for mutual dialogue to further mutual understanding between religions, The visit of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Makkah and Madina, His Royal Highness King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, with the intent of building a Catholic Church in the Kingdom (read here).

Note: the Catholic Church of Christ is founded by Jesus Christ in Jerusalem in 33 A.D. Benedict XVI is the 265th Pope of the Universal Church of Christ from the time of St. Peter whose See was established in the Eternal City of Rome. Vatican City is an independent state, the seat of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church of Christ making it the smallest country in terms of land area and population yet has the biggest number of members worldwide.

Here are my sources:


There are over 250,000 foreign workers in the country who are Catholics, representing around 7% of the total population, largely Filipinos, Indians, Americans, Lebanese, and Europeans. The United Arab Emirates forms part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia and the Vicar Apostolic Bishop Paul Hinder is based in Abu Dhabi.

However, the total number of Christians is more.

Churches in the Region

•St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Abu Dhabi
•St. Mary's Catholic Church, Dubai
•St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Jebel Ali
•St. Michael's Catholic Church, Sharjah
•St. Mary's Catholic Church, Al Ain
•Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, Fujairah
•Fujairah Sub Centres in Kalba, Khorfakkan and Dibba


There are over 140,000 Roman Catholics in the country - representing about 6% of the population.

There are no dioceses in the country, but Kuwait has the status of an Apostolic Vicariate. The current superior is the Italian Bishop Camillo Ballin. There is a cathedral in Kuwait City dedicated to the Holy Family.


There are about one million Catholics in Lebanon , the majority of who are not Roman Catholic, but instead follow a number of different rites of the Catholic church - mostly Maronite, but also Armenian, Chaldean, Melkite and Syriac.


The Roman Catholic population in Egypt is considerably small as compared to the rest of the Christian population in Egypt. The Roman Catholic population in Egypt is said to have begun during the British control of Egypt, however many returned back to Europe after the 1952 Revolution in Egypt, which also caused the overthrow and exile of King Farouk of Egypt.

The majority of the christians in Egypt are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The population of Roman Catholics in Egypt makes up less than 1% of the total Egyptian population, which is roughly 83 million people.


There are only 3,001 (according to a 2005 census) Catholics in Oman, mostly expatriates. They make up just 0.1% of the total population of 3,001,583. Oman forms part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia.

Catholics in the Palestinian territories
There are over 80,000 Catholics in the areas referred to as the Palestinian territories, mostly in the agglomeration between Ramallah and Bethlehem, including the West Bank suburbs of Jerusalem. Adherents are mostly Latin Rite, but there is also a small Melkite Rite community. There are two Archbishops of Jerusalem for each jurisdiction respectively.


There are very few Catholics in this overwhelmingly Islamic country - most are expatriate workers. Qatar forms part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia. The local church has been granted permission to build an ecumenical church. The first Catholic church in Qatar, and also the first in an Arab Muslim emirate, will be dedicated in the capital Doha on March 14th, 2008.


Pope Benedict XVI and HH King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques first ever meeting in 2006
Public worship of non-Islamic religions is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and Christians of all denominations have been subjected to persecution for public preaching. Possession of Bibles, in theory, is not a crime although possession of large quantities can carry severe penalties as it may be viewed as evidence of intent to convert others. However, there are some signs of more openness. Pope Benedict XVI and King Abdullah have begun negotiations on opening the first Catholic church in the kingdom.


There are only four thousand Catholics in the country, which forms part of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia which also includes other countries in the Arabian peninsula.


There are 368,000 Catholics in Syria, approximately 2% of the total population. The Catholics of Syria follow several different rites, including Armenian, Chaldean, Syrian, Maronite and Melkite in addition to the Roman rite and there are separate jurisdictions for the faithful of each rite.


Pope Benedict XVI with HH King Abdullah II and HH Queen Rania in 2009
There are approximately 70,000 Catholics in Jordan, representing just over 1% of the total population. The whole of the country forms a single Archeparchy. Jordanian Catholics belonging to the Greek Catholic churches use the Melkite Rite, these are referred to as "Catholiks" in Jordan, while those following the standard rites of the Roman Catholic Church are referred to as "Lateen".

Communion by hand is not permitted in any Catholic Church in Jordan, and the habit itself is completely alien to most Jordanians. Sometimes, however, at mass conducted for non-Jordanians, and specifically westerners in Jordan, communion by hand is permitted.

There are currently 32 Roman Catholic churches in Jordan (Greek and Melkite Catholic churches not included.)


There are over 300,000 Catholics in Iraq, just over 1% of the total population. The Catholics of Iraq follow several different rites, but most are members of the Chaldean Catholic Church. There are fifteen currently active dioceses and eparchies in Iraq.

Armenian Catholic Church
Armenian Catholic Archeparchy of Baghdad
Chaldean Catholic Church
Patriarchate of Babyon for the Chaldeans
Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Baghdad (currently united with the Patriarchate)
Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Alquoch
Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Amadiyah
Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Aqra
Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Sulaimaniya
Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Zaku
Chaldean Catholic Archeparchy of Arbil
Chaldean Catholic Archeparchy of Basra
Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Kerkuk
Chaldean Catholic Archeparchy of Mossul
Syrian Catholic Church
Syrian Catholic Archeparchy of Baghdad
Syrian Catholic Archeparchy of Mossul
Latin-Rite Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baghdad


There are just 100,000 Catholics in Israel, just over 1% of the total population. Most Israeli Catholics are members of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, but there is also a significant presence of the Maronite Church. In addition, the Latin Catholic Church hierarchy in Israel is headed by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.


There are just 13,603 Catholics in Iran - out of a total population of almost 70 million. They follow the Chaldean, Armenian and Latin Rites.


There are only around 35,000 Catholics, constituting 0.05% of the population, in this traditionally Islamic country. The faithful follow the Latin, Byzantine, Armenian and Chaldean Rite. The Catholic community was shocked when Father Andrea Santoro, an Italian missionary working in Turkey for 10 years, was shot twice at his church near the Black Sea. He had written a letter to the Pope asking him to visit Turkey. Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey in November 2006. Relations had been rocky since Pope Benedict XVI had stated his opposition to Turkey joining the European Union. The Council of Catholic Bishops met with the Turkish prime minister in 2004 to discuss restrictions and difficulties such as property issues.


•Vicariate Apostolic of Anatolia - Latin Rite
•Archeparchy of Diarbekir (Amida) - Chaldean Rite
•Archeparchy of Istanbul - Armenian Rite
•Apostolic Exarchate of Istanbul - Byzantine Rite
•Vicariate Apostolic of Istanbul - Latin Rite
•Archdiocese of Izmir (Smirne) - Latin Rite


There are very few Catholics in this overwhelmingly Islamic country - just over 100 attend mass in its only chapel - and freedom of religion has been difficult to obtain in recent times, especially under the former Taliban regime. On 16 May 2002, Pope John Paul II established a mission sui iuris for Afghanistan with Father Giuseppe Moretti as its first superior. The only Catholic Church in the country is the chapel at the Italian embassy in Kabul. In 2004, the Missionaries of Charity arrived in Kabul to carry out humanitarian work.

History of the Catholic Church in Afghanistan

Legend from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas and other ancient documents suggests that Saint Thomas preached in Bactria, which is today northern Afghanistan. The Nestorians planted Christianity in the area, and there have been 9 bishops and dioceses in the region, including Herat (424-1310), Farah (544-1057), Kandahar, and Balkh. This early establishment of the Church was overcome by Muslim invasions in the 7th century, though the territory was not substantially controlled by Muslims until the 9th and 10th centuries. In 1581 and 1582 respectively, the Jesuit and Spanisch Montesserat and the Portuguese Bento de Goes were warmly welcomed by the Islamic Emperor Akbar, but there was no lasting presence by the Jesuits in the country.

The 20th Century

Italy was the first country to recognize Afghanistan’s independence in 1919, and the Afghan government asked how it could thank Italy. Rome requested the right to build a chapel, which was then being requested by international technicians then living in the Afghan capital. A clause giving Italy the right to build a chapel within its embassy was included to Italian-Afghan treaty of 1921, and that same year the Barnabites arrived to start giving pastoral care. The actual pastoral work began in 1933 when the chapel international technicians had asked for was built. In the 1950s, the simple cement chapel was finished.

Pope John Paul II called for a "just solution" to the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s. From 1990 to 1994, Father Giuseppe Moretti was the only priest in Afghanistan, but was forced to leave in 1994 after being hit with shrapnel and had to return to Italy. After 1994, only the Little Sisters of Jesus were allowed to remain in Afghanistan, as they had been there since 1955 and their work was renowned. An official from the last pro-Communist government of Mohammad Najibullah went to see Fr Giuseppe Moretti in 1992 with a sketch for a small compound that would be guaranteed immunity. However, nothing came of it as the political situation in Afghanistan unravelled - the civil war escalated, the Taliban came to power and then lost it after the American invasion. Father Moretti again was forced to flee because of the invasion by the United States, but later returned. Following the attacks of September 11, Catholic Relief Services sent clothing, food and bedding to returning refugees and internally displaced persons. They also bought school supplies for children returning to school.


The first Mass in 9 years was celebrated on January 27, 2002 for members of the International Security Force and various members of foreign agencies. On May 16, 2002, a mission sui iuris was created for all of Afghanistan. There is only one functioning chapel in the country and it is the Italian Embassy's chapel. Projects of the new mission include a "Peace School" for 500 students that began construction in August 2003 and will be at "European standards". Three nuns also work with those who have mental disabilities in the capital city, teaching those with cerebral palsy how to go to the bathroom and how to eat on their own. The small community went through a period of crisis during the kidnapping on May 17, 2005 of Clementina Cantoni, a member of Care International, by four gunmen in Kabul as she walked to her car. Sisters from the Missionaries of Charity had their house blessed on May 9, 2006, and have already started taking in street children. There had been fears that their distinctive blue and white dress would make them stand out and be harassed by Islamists, but their order is generally respected. Jesuit Relief Services has also applied to join the growing number of religious orders in the country. Jesuit Refuge Services has recently opened a technical school in Herat for 500 students including 120 girls.
There have been efforts made to start inter-religious dialogue, with the Islamist head of the Afghan Supreme Court, Mullah Fazul Shinwari attended the inauguration of the mission and has expressed a desire to meet with the Pope.

The Catholic community in Afghanistan is mainly made of foreigners, especially aid workers, and no Afghans currently are part of the Church, mainly due to great social and legal pressure not to convert to non-Islamic religions. Some Afghans have converted while overseas, but keep it secret when they return. Despite this, the community has grown from only a few nuns to a full Sunday Mass of around 100.

Relations with the new democratic government of Afghanistan have been positive, such as President Hamid Karzai attending Pope John Paul II's funeral and congratulating Pope Benedict XVI on his election. The nuncio to Pakistan visited Afghanistan in 2005 and held a Mass in the Italian Embassy Chapel to an overflowing crowd, and Catholic officials hope that official diplomatic ties and a public Catholic church will be possible in the future.


Pope John Paul II visited Pakistan on February 16, 1981.

There are over one million Catholics in Pakistan, which represents less than 1% of the total population. There are 7 ecclesiastical units in Pakistan comprising 2 archdioceses and 4 dioceses, and one Apostolic Prefecture, all Latin Rite.

The Catholic Church in Pakistan is also active in education managing leading schools like Saint Patrick's High School, Karachi, health and other social aspects of daily life in addition to its spiritual work.

Joseph Cordeiro, Archbishop of Karachi, became the first (and thus far only) Pakistani Cardinal elevated to the position by Pope Paul VI on 5 Mar 1973.

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