Pope Francis made an Apostolic Journey to Bahrain in November 2022 Pope Francis made an Apostolic Journey to Bahrain in November 2022  (Vatican Media)

Church in Arabian Peninsula set to open Jubilee for Christian martyrs

The Catholic Church in the Arabian Peninsula prepares to open a year-long Jubilee celebration to commemorate the 1,500th anniversary of the Martyrs of Arabia, in hopes of strengthening the faith of the 2.5 million Catholic faithful in the region.

By Devin Watkins

The Church in the Arabian Peninsula is set to embark on a Holy Year for the 1,500th anniversary of the Martyrs of Arabia (523-2023).

"We consider this year to be a year of grace for the entire Vicariate and for all Christian communities in the Gulf,” said Bishop Aldo Berardi, Vicar Apostolic of Northern Arabia, speaking to Fides news agency. “We celebrate with faith the memory of our Christian ancestors who gave their lives for Christ, faithful to the end.”

The celebration is a joint endeavor between the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, and the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, led by Bishop Paolo Martinelli.

Martyrs of Arabian Peninsula

The Jubilee officially begins on 24 October, with the commemoration of Saint Arethas and his companions, known for their martyrdom.

Historical records reveal that they were Arab Christians from the ancient Christian city of Najran in southern Arabia, modern-day Saudi Arabia.

Saint Arethas, whose Arabic name was Al-Harith bin Ka'b, and his companions are venerated in both Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He served as the prefect of Najran until his martyrdom at the age of 95.

In 523 AD, he and his companions endured martyrdom at the hands of King Dhu Nuwas, who started a violent persecution of Christians in the region. Their unwavering faith and sacrifice serve as an inspiration to contemporary Christians in the Arabian Peninsula.

Apostolic Vicariate's video about life of St. Arethas and Companions

Renewing missionary spirit

The Jubilee offers an opportunity to rediscover the legacy of the martyrs of the Arabian Peninsula and to find consolation in their stories of commitment to Christ, even in the face of martyrdom.

“We see our continuity with the Christian communities and monasteries that emerged in this region,” said Bishop Berardi. “This anniversary year is an opportunity to renew our missionary spirit and deepen our faith. We, in turn, must bear witness to Christ and the Gospel by living a holy and consistent life.”

In the spirit of the Jubilee, Holy Doors will be opened at the Kuwait Cathedral and the Bahrain Cathedral.

Pilgrimage and plenary indulgence

Pope Francis issued a decree in August 2023 to officially open the Jubilee of Saint Arethas and his Companions in the Arabian Peninsula, which spans from 24 October 2023 to 23 October 2024.

The decree also grants a plenary indulgence to the faithful who undertake a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia in Awali, Bahrain, the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, or the Parish of St. Arethas.

“Our life is a pilgrimage,” said Bishop Berardi. "Our pilgrimage is often not easy, because of the difficulties of life, the environment and the society in which we live. But it is always possible to follow Jesus and the Gospel if we express our love for the Father and when we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.”

To foster a deeper connection with the region’s Christian martyrs, a book entitled "The Unforgotten Martyrs of Arabia", first published in English in 2020, has been translated into several languages.

A relic of Saint Arethas is also expected to arrive in Bahrain in November 2023, marking the return of the saint's remains to the Arabian Peninsula after nearly fourteen centuries.

In the Arabian Peninsula, which is home to approximately 2.5 million Catholic faithful, the Jubilee for the 1,500th anniversary of the Martyrs of Arabia offers a reminder of the region’s rich Christian history and an invitation for a renewal of faith.

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21 October 2023, 12:09