THE TIMES KUWAIT REPORT
Representative of the Holy See in Kuwait, Apostolic Nuncio His Excellency Eugene M. Nugent
Representative of the Holy See in Kuwait, Apostolic Nuncio His Excellency Eugene M. Nugent, in a recent exclusive interview with the media spoke at length about the warm, friendly relations between the Vatican and Kuwait, which have strengthened and deepened over the past 55 years since the two states began official diplomatic relations. He also underlined the similarity of views between the two countries on many important issues of regional and global significance, and stressed that Kuwait and the Holy See and the Catholic Church also share a mutual sincere respect for each other.
The Apostolic Nuncio began by explaining the significance of celebrations held at the Nunciature on 13 March. “The Holy See is unusual in many respects, not least in the fact that it doesn’t have an Independence Day, or a foundation day or a liberation day. And yet, on 13 March, we celebrated an official holiday,to mark the anniversary of the election of the current Bishop of Rome who, according to tradition, is the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church. On this day, 10 years ago, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina was elected Pope and Head of the Catholic Church.
“Pope Francis is also the first Pontiff from the American continent and the first Pope who has taken the name Francis, a name chosen in memory of St Francis of Assisi, who is considered the precursor in interreligious dialogue.”
Turning to diplomatic relations between the two states, ever since Kuwait became the first Gulf country to establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1968, Nuncio Nugent said,
“The diplomatic relations between Kuwait and the Holy See go back over half a century now. We enjoy a very long and well-established relationship. Full diplomatic relations were established when Kuwait was still a young state, after having achieved its independence. Over the years the relationship has evolved and deepened. In the beginning, we didn’t have a resident Nuncio here. That was not until 2000. Since then, there has been a resident Nuncio and a fully functioning Nunciature here. Today, the Holy See and Kuwait share similar views on a range of regional and global issues, including climate change, education, family values, international peace, and others.”
Asked about his views on the situation of Christians in Kuwait today, the nuncio pointed out that in 1961 the late Pope John XXIII had bestowed the Medal ‘Knight of Pope St. Sylvester’ on the late Amir Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, in appreciation of his role in embracing Christians in Kuwait. “The number of Christians in Kuwait has been growing constantly over the years as the economy of Kuwait has expanded, especially, in the oil sector, services, hospitality, medicine, business and legal affairs. The majority of Christians in Kuwait come from the Philippines and India. Of course there are also Christians from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Europe, the United States and from African countries. Prior to the Covid pandemic, there were about 350,000 Roman Catholics in Kuwait and the total of Christians was about 800,000.
“That number has probably dropped somewhat due to the pandemic. It is probably more accurate to say that, at present, we have about 300,000 Catholics of different rites: Syro-Malabar, Maronite, Melkite, Coptic Catholic, Armenian Catholic and of course the largest number are Latin Catholics. The Church is very dynamic here in Kuwait and it caters to the different languages and cultural backgrounds. We are grateful to the authorities for the existing places of worship, but it is a big challenge to provide adequate pastoral care to all these people with a very limited number of churches and parish structures.”
He went on to note that the genuine relations between the Vatican and Kuwait were highlighted most recently by the sincere sympathy expressed by the political leadership and a wide spectrum of society in Kuwait, on the passing away of Pope Benedict XVI. “I was very positively impressed by the outpouring of sympathy both by the political leadership and by the people of Kuwait following the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I was very gratified when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah Al Mubarak Al Sabah, Minister of the Amiri Diwan Affairs, came personally to the Apostolic Nunciature to express condolences on the part of His Highness Sheikh Nawaf Al-Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Amir of Kuwait, His Highness the Crown Prince, His Highness the Prime Minister and the Al Sabah family; as well as Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who came to represent the government and the people of Kuwait.
“Many other Kuwaiti dignitaries and friends also came to express their sympathies on this sad occasion. This shows that there is a very genuine relationship of mutual respect between the government and people of Kuwait on one hand and the Holy See and the Catholic Church on the other. These expressions of sympathy and solidarity strengthen my hope that this relationship will develop and deepen even further going forward.”
On the question of a possible visit to Kuwait any time soon by His Holiness the Pope, especially considering that there have been visits to the Vatican by top leadership of Kuwait, including by the late amir’s Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad and Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, when he was crown prince, the papal representative said: “We would certainly hope that the Holy Father would pay an apostolic visit to Kuwait. As you probably already know, His Holiness visited the United Arab Emirates in 2019 and Bahrain in 2022. He visited Iraq in 2021. However, we should keep in mind that he has a certain difficulty with walking. I should also like to add that to visit any country, the Holy Father has to be invited by the Head of State and the local church authorities. He doesn’t come without an invitation! This is a protocol requirement that is necessary before a decision can be taken. Certainly, we would hope that, in the not too distant future, the Pope would visit Kuwait, a country he loves very much.”
Elaborating on his plans to work to achieve Pope Francis’ vision of building bridges of dialogue with Islam, the Vatican envoy explained: “I would very much like to engage with the relevant entities here in Kuwait on this issue. Interreligious dialogue is so important in building bridges of friendship and breaking down barriers of misunderstanding that have built up over the centuries. On our part, we are eager to invite experts from the Catholic Church to engage with our Muslim friends in a respectful dialogue on theological, philosophical and historical issues.
“The Holy See has cultural and academic agreements with many majority Muslim countries on academic and cultural exchange programmes. I hope this can be achieved in Kuwait as well. As far as I know, there is no forum for interreligious dialogue in Kuwait. We are eager to organize round table discussions on issues of common concern such as faith and culture, youth and ethics, the role of artificial intelligence and the challenges of the digital age, etc. We all realize that, with the war in Ukraine and following the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a real urgency to come together for a better understanding between religions in promoting world peace and a greater harmony between religions and cultures.
“I recently mentioned that humanity is living through troubled times. What I had in mind is of course what Pope Francis has called ‘the Third World war being fought piecemeal’. I am thinking especially of the war in Ukraine, the many other wars being fought (some of them not very far from here), the threat of nuclear war, the high cost of food which is causing famine, the migration of people on a huge scale as well as the dramatic effects of climate change, not to mention the plague of drugs, divorce and family violence.
“In all of these areas, I believe we can come together as people of faith and engage in a positive way in helping to tackle these pressing issues so as to alleviate these critical problems facing humanity. This would be a practical form of interreligious dialogue where each side respects the other and works together for the common good.”