ASIA/KUWAIT - Nuncio Nugent: "We cannot change the world but we can create fraternity and a climate of trust"

Wednesday, 15 May 2024


by Antonella Prenna

Kuwait City (Agenzia Fides) - "I arrived in Kuwait in the middle of the Covid period, in February 2021, and presented my Letters of Credence in May of the same year although the obligation to wear a mask and all remote procedures persisted." Archbishop Eugene Martin Nugent is Apostolic Nuncio of the Vicariate of North Arabia, which includes Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. "In all the official meetings that I have had upon my arrival, everyone has expressed their admiration for the Holy Father, for his person, for what he is doing, especially here, in the context of fraternity," declared the Nuncio in a meeting with Fides Agency.

"When I arrived, the Emir was no longer in such good health, he died last December. So he left the tasks of government to his trusted delegates and at first it was difficult for me to touch on important issues. I talked about my proposals to do something to encourage interreligious dialogue, since here in Kuwait there is no official forum for dialogue, unlike Bahrain and Qatar, where there is already something underway. When I was received by the King of Bahrain, I felt his feeling of brotherhood and welcome, as well as that of the Emir of Qatar. I was impressed by the hugs and respect they showed me. Each of these countries is different, has small nuances, stories and traditions. Everything we do here is done with a missionary perspective of the local Church.

"In Madagascar (2010-2015)," says Archbishop Nugent about his first assignment as nuncio, "everything focused on the concrete life of the Church and the mission of the Church. Also here, in the Gulf countries, we tried to promote as much as possible the presence of the Church in these predominantly Muslim countries. Every weekend I celebrate mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Holy Family to maintain contact with the people, with the living presence of the Church. On Saturday mornings I celebrate with the Carmelite Sisters of India, who run a school, and then I make pastoral visits to the parishes of the three towns of the Vicariate. When I arrived in 2021, before the appointment of the current Apostolic Vicar of North Arabia, Bishop Aldo Berardi, Bishop Paul Hinder, who is currently in Abu Dhabi, was the Apostolic Administrator, but due to Covid restrictions he could not travel easily. During that time I replaced the bishop by imparting Confirmations. In all countries I have always tried to have contact with the dioceses and parishes. I continue to make pastoral visits, I participate in celebrations and meetings also because in this way the faithful feel gratified by our presence among them. Many live here for work and are alone, without their families, and it is very important to make the presence of the Church felt. The Bishop's visit is a bit like that of a father visiting his children."

"It's been three years since I arrived and I am very impressed by the reality of Kuwait. Simple people with an authentic and well-rooted faith, a deep devotion despite all the problems and difficulties they encounter daily. Despite the variety of rituals, languages and cultures, there is a certain harmony. Being together, celebrating together, each community with its traditions and mutual respect, makes it very clear that the Church is great. Perhaps in Europe we do not have the perception of how alive the Catholic Church really is in these predominantly Muslim countries, or even think that it barely exists. But when you are there you discover that it is alive and very lively. Seeing thousands and thousands of people attending these small churches impresses me, encourages me and strengthens my faith. The Abu Dhabi document on Fraternity, dated February 4, 2019, was well received, especially in Bahrain. Here in Kuwait we have distributed the documents, even in universities. Some are interested, but the vast majority know very little about it. "It hasn't reached common knowledge yet."

"In the diplomatic headquarters of the missionary countries where I have provided my services - first in Madagascar and then in Haiti - the Nunciatures, the figure of the Nuncio, have different characteristics from those that exist, for example, in Europe. It is a very important presence for the local Church. When I was in Madagascar I visited the Dioceses in the most remote places, traveling for up to a week from one village to another to get to know the local realities up close. Likewise, in Haiti, I visited all the dioceses and parishes several times. Upon arriving in the Gulf countries, I inevitably found many differences, mainly due to the fact that they are three countries located on three different continents. While in Haiti and Madagascar one of the priority problems was accessibility, given that often there are no passable roads but dirt tracks and rivers that have to be crossed by boat, here in the Vicariate of North Arabia I had an easier impact at the level of structure, but different at the level of mission, of personal commitment. In Kuwait, with Muslims, I try to maintain or create contacts. We maintain friendly relations with several families, for example, every year at the end of Ramadan, after Iftar, there is a tradition of family visits. Every night, some of them open their houses to receive whoever wants to come and say hello. I go very often to see those who invite me and greatly appreciate this availability, showing great respect for the Cross that I carry. There is great esteem and welcome because it draws their attention when the Nuncio enters their homes."

"Our work is a bit like that, we cannot change the world but we can create relationships, friendships, brotherhood and an atmosphere of trust. And that is what I try to do especially here in Kuwait. We are in contact with a group of young Muslims, we have coffee together, we talk about everything, including religion but not primarily. They are very open, we talk about politics, social life, we address the problems that families have that, like almost everywhere, fall apart. In short, we share the same problems as in the West. I always learn a lot from them too. With the Nunciature we want to show that the Holy See, the Church, is present and we are here with our Co-Cathedral of the Holy Family. People are very proud of the fact that the first Gulf country to have relations with the Holy See was Kuwait where the seat of the Apostolic Nunciature is located."

Archbishop Nugent, speaking of Saudi Arabia, mentions the great change that seems to be taking place at least in certain strata of society. "Young people are opening up much more towards the West, although tradition is still deeply rooted here. Let's say that this is the most particular of the Gulf countries. Qatar has become a reference for foreign policy and is completely different. Pope Francis' visit to Bahrain (see Fides, 3/11/2022) was a very important moment. Receiving the Pope in a country in the Gulf area was also a hope to improve relations in all Muslim countries, but we must always take into account the concrete reality." (Agenzia Fides, 15/5/2024)