Friar Dominique MATHIEU is the newly elected Archbishop of Teheran – Ispahan, Iran. During his remaining days in Rome, before he departs for Iran, he has entrusted his journey and episcopal service to the martyrs of Persia and to St. Anthony of Padua, as well.
On February 27, 2021, at the invitation of the Guardian, Friar Robert LEŻOHUPSKI, the Most Reverend Dominique MATHIEU, accompanied by the Procurator General, Friar Maurizio DI PAOLO, visited the Friary of St. Anthony at the Baths [“Vigna”] one of the Order’s four General Houses in Rome. The international community there is comprised of twenty friars, mostly licentiate and doctoral students. Just two weeks earlier, the friars there were equally honored to host His Eminence, Mauro Cardinal GAMBETTI, who shortly thereafter was appointed Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica and Vicar General of his Holiness for Vatican City.
Friar Dominique presided over morning Mass at the Vigna Friary, in his own sober and devout style. The Mass was celebrated in the friary chapel, next to the room that was once the final living quarters of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Today it is known as the Oratory of the Most Holy Sacrament. Its frescoes by the 17th century painter and Jesuit, Andrea POZZO, make it a unique setting.
After breakfast, our archbishop confrere talked about his feelings, expectations and hopes for his upcoming service, which he thinks may be difficult and unpredictable. In the time leading up to his departure, his greatest concern is for the flock entrusted to him, which at the moment lacks shepherds. Iran’s Catholics number more than two thousand, although – as he himself tells us – that “official” tally represents only one fifth of the total number of Catholics, who are gathered in small and diverse communities scattered across the country. There is an absence of clergy; the last known representative was the Apostolic Administrator Emeritus, Father Jack YOUSSEF (Lazarists). This situation makes it necessary for Friar Dominique to reorganize the way the souls of the country’s Catholics are cared for. In the same way, it is essential that he maintain the historical Christian presence. Friar Dominique is not only concerned with the ecumenical wellbeing of the other Christian confessions (Chaldeans and Armenians, who number slightly more than the Latins) but also interreligious dialogue with the Muslim community, whose members are 90% Shiite and 5% Sunni. Friar Dominique’s dream is echoed in Pope Francis’ recent encyclical which promotes a life of universal brotherhood and mutual respect.
The challenge awaiting Friar Dominique is great and demanding; it will be difficult but not impossible. He is hoping for some concrete support from the Order—a presence of friars, which for now, he invokes in prayer. The friars at the Vigna Friary assure Friar Dominique of their affection and constant prayer, but mostly, they entrust him to the care of the patron of their friary, St. Anthony of Padua. Coincidentally he is the Patron Saint of the National Shrine in Brussels where Friar Dominique served as its Rector until 2012, a place of sharing and dialogue between Christians and Muslims, lay people and other social and religious minorities.
May the saints accompany Friar Dominique and the martyrs be his faithful guides as he begins his journey as a shepherd of the Iranian people.
Friar Simone SCHIAVONE