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Institute for Pastoral Initiatives News

Our Mission in the Middle East

By Liliana Montoya

I realize we are all a human beings with similar sensitivities, all striving to identify better as children of God.

As this trip became a reality, I began to ponder my first visit to an Arabic country. I had the support of my family during my time away, but did not know if the cultural information I gathered during my trip preparation would hold true. However, I was confident this trip was part of God's plan.  

My concerns started to drift away on the flight from Chicago to Dubai. Most people spoke Arabic, and despite not understanding what they were saying, I could feel at ease. I sat next to an Arabic woman from India and a Lebanese man. While there may be differences in language, clothing, culture and religion, I realized there is a connection and deep similarities.

Even without speaking the same language or professing the same faith, my two plane companions were kind, gentle, and attentive. In particular, the woman conveyed tenderness and deep peace. She prayed twice using the Koran, and her piety motivated me to pray the Rosary. 

After landing at the dazzling Dubai airport, all my apprehensions went away. It is very organized despite the long line to pass immigration. I felt safe. I believe that the UAE laws make this place one of the safest for tourists.

Our destination was Abu Dhabi, about 90 minutes by car. I was amazed by this beautiful, magical and modern city. As in the U.S., UAE is a multicultural country. There are foreigners from all over the world. 

In the house I stayed in, the family asked me to make Colombian arepas. Since Colombia is my native country, I felt welcomed when I was asked to prepare this traditional dish. 

The purpose of my visit was to promote our online Spanish courses for the Hispanic community, and to participate as a speaker in the annual AVOSA (Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia) conference for formation in the Faith. In addition to our online courses in Spanish, our team is working on developing courses in Arabic. 

This year's theme was centered on Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation on Holiness so my themes at the conference for the Hispanic community were centered on the Holiness of all the baptized.

I was part of history. The first visit to the UAE by a Pope.  To my surprise, I was invited to attend and witness the only mass that Pope Francisco would give to UAE Catholics. This experience to see Pope Francis in this setting is hard to describe. 

I can say that the communion that took place between the Pope, the religious leaders and all of us who participated in the Pope's Mass filled us with hope for a better world, a more human, more fraternal and more tolerant place.

My feeling is that despite the diversity, despite the difference of accents and rites within Christianity, and their cultures, the people here seem to be really integrated into the Catholic Church.

It is not our dress, our language, our culture or our religion that separates us.  We focus too long and too much, in the appearance, in the superficiality of what we are and what we believe. We should reverse that and put more time and emphasis in seeking to understand God's presence within us and how we can be his loyal ambassadors.

When we see each other as human beings,  we turn our eyes to our heart, and we welcome God to help us share his love for humankind.

Liliana Montoya, M.Div, is the coordinator for Hispanic programs at the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives.  Her email is



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