x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Catholics in the UAE rejoice at the election of Pope Francis

Catholics in the UAE welcome the new pope, with some particularly impressed with his humility and simplicity.

Father Wild Gandolf, secretary of Bishop Paul Hinder, the Vicar Apostolic of Arabia at St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi has welcomed the election of Pope Francis, the first non-European pope in more than a thousand years. Jaime Puebla / The National
Father Wild Gandolf, secretary of Bishop Paul Hinder, the Vicar Apostolic of Arabia at St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi has welcomed the election of Pope Francis, the first non-European pope in more than a thousand years. Jaime Puebla / The National

ABU DHABI // The new pope will have a profound impact on the lives of the more than 800,000 Catholics at seven parishes in the UAE, priests said today.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Argentina, now named Francis, is the first non-European pope elected in more than 1,000 years.

"Changes in the church do not come all of a sudden," said Father Wild Gandolf, 72, secretary to Bishop Paul Hinder, the vicar apostolic of Arabia at St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi.

"The pope is like the father and we look up to him as an example of a holy and fraternal love. We will expect a different style.

"He will try to make his own diocese in Rome that will be a model of spirituality and fraternal love. He will do away with costly and ostentatious ceremonies."

The President, Sheikh Khalifa, today sent a congratulatory cable to Pope Francis, expressing his best wishes for success in boosting the values of peace, justice and tolerance in the world, reported the state news agency Wam.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, sent similar messages.

"I was surprised in a way [about the choice of pope] but very happy," said Fr Gandolf, who has been in Abu Dhabi since June 2008.

"Eight years ago many wanted him to be the pope but the votes did not seem sufficient at that time.

"Pope Francis is a very simple and humble man, and what was impressive about him was he asked the people to pray for him in his first words as pope last night.

"He's a Jesuit, one of the leading religious orders for their high intellectual capacity."

"We are very happy that we have a new pope, no matter where he's from," said Ruben Eduardo Caro, Argentina's ambassador.

"We're very happy and we will pray for him, for guidance from God so he can fulfil his huge responsibility."

There are about 1,200 Argentinians in the UAE. Among them is Claudia Mazur, 45, an Abu Dhabi resident for 18 months.

"It was a big surprise for me," Ms Mazur said. "I feel proud as an Argentinian that we have a new pope from Latin America."

She was expecting Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, the much discussed Brazilian candidate, to be elected, and was unaware the Archbishop of Buenos Aires was among the contenders.

Ramuel Garcia, national director for Couples for Christ in the UAE, said the group was glad the process had not taken too long.

"The choice they made appeared to be close to unanimous and they were united," said Mr Garcia, 53, a Filipino business development manager. "Of course even at the last minute we were hoping that Cardinal Tagle would be our next pope."

Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is Asia's most prominent Catholic leader.

"It's always a great joy to have someone lead the church again after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last month," said Fr Tomasito Veneracion, 52, the parish priest at St Mary's Church in Dubai.

"What is significant is the shift of leadership from Rome to South America. The papacy will make the church relevant again, especially in Europe and South America."

rruiz@thenational.ae