Yemen, The Catholic Church in

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YEMEN, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN

The Republic of Yemen is located in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula. Its Arabic name is al-Yaman, "the righthand side," i.e., south of the Kaaba in Mecca, since for Semites the south is at the right, the north at the left. It is bound by saudi arabia on the north, Oman on the northeast, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea on the south and southeast, and the Red Sea on the west. Primarily a desert region, the climate is hot and dry in the eastern desert, becoming humid near the southern coast. A narrow plain along the coast rises to flattened hills and

then to mountains, while the central region is a desert plain. Natural resources include petroleum, rock salt, marble and small quantities of coal, gold, nickel, copper and lead. The fertile interior highlands (7,0009,000 ft. above sea level) are the seat of much of Yemen's agriculture and grazing, while the terraced mountain slopes in the west and the coastal plain of the Tihama also provide room for crops and livestock. Agricultural products include grains, fruit and vegetables, qat (a mild narcotic), coffee, cotton and dairy and livestock.

Northern Yemen broke free of the Ottoman Empire in November of 1918, and became North Yemen, while the southern region around the port of Aden, a strategic location as one of the world's most active shipping lanes, remained a protectorate of Great Britain until proclaiming independence on Nov. 30, 1967. North Yemen became the Yemen Arab Republic on Sept. 26, 1962; by 1970 the southern section had become the People's republic of Yemen, a Marxist state. During the 1970s and 1980s massive migrations of Yemeni from the south to the north occurred, increasing tensions between the two regions. In 1990 the two regions reunited as the Republic of Yemen, although secessionists began a short-lived agitation in 1994. One of the poorest nations in the Middle East, Yemen benefited from its oil reserves, but remained at the effect of oil prices. The government's efforts to modernize the economy and relieve its foreign debt were undercut by a high population growth and political instability. The population is overwhelmingly Muslim; most of the Jewish population was flown back to Israel after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, leaving the 500 Jews remaining by 2000 scattered through several villages in the north.

Early History. In ancient times, the Sabaean kingdom with its capital Mârib, which is presently a small, almost deserted village on the eastern border of Yemen, flourished in the eastern center of Yemen, and the ruins of the ancient Minaean kingdom lie under a sandy mantel in the northeastern section of Yemen. The Old Testament depicts the Sabaeans both as wealthy traders of incense, perfumes, gold, etc., and as raiders [see saba (sheba)]. In the course of history, the whole southwestern section of Arabia, described as Arabia Felix by ancient authors because

of its wealth, was under Sabaean rule. There were many Jewish communities in ancient Yemen and Christianity also gained followers, especially in Najrân (presently in southern Saudi Arabia). A persecution headed by a South Arabian provincial king who had embraced the Jewish faith, Masruk DhūNuwās, decimated the Christians in a.d. 523. The Sabaean power was, however, declining at an alarming rate, and Islam conquered the people in a.d. 628. From a.d. 893 until the revolution of 1962, Yemen was governed by imams (Ar. 'imâm, exemplar) even during the Ottoman supremacy which lasted from the 16th century to the end of World War I.

Into the 21st Century. At the fall of the Soviet empire, the political friction between the communist government in the south and the non-communist north dissolved. On May 22, 1990 Yemen, divided since the 1960s, named Lt. Gen. Ali Abdallah Salih president of the new united republic. Under its new constitution, promulgated on May 16, 1991, Islam was the state religion, although people of other faiths were allowed to freely practice their religion. Sharia, Islamic law, was the basis for much of the nation's civil law and all legislation; under the new system apostasyconversion of a Muslim to another faithwas punishable by death, and the permission of the state was required before construction of any houses of worship.

By 2000 there were four parishes in Yemen, tended by four priests. Most Catholics were temporary foreign workers from Southeast Asia; most lived in the south and sent their children to small, private Catholic schools. The Missionaries of Charitythe order founded by Mother Teresawere invited by the government to enter the country and operated homes for the poor and the handicapped in Sana'a and three other major cities, while the Salesian Brothers attend to religious needs. The French Doctors without Borders group established a clinic in Aden. As a minority in an Islamic nation, relations between Catholics and Muslims were sometimes strained. In July of 1998 three nuns of the Missionary of Charity were murdered in western Yemen by a gunman later discovered to be deranged; the government took quick action in the murderer's capture and trial. Harassment of Catholics, particularly in the southern region, continued to occur sporadically through the 1990s due to a rise in Islamic fundamentalism, although the government remained quick to quell such acts. The Vatican established diplomatic relations with Yemen in October of 1998, and President Saleh visited with Pope John Paul II in April of 2000. An ecumenical Christian center was permitted to be constructed in Sana'a in the late 1990s.

Bibliography: l. forrer, Südarabien nach Al-Hamdānī's "Beschreibung der arabischen Halbinsel" (Leipzig 1942). Western Arabia and the Red Sea, Geographical Handbook (London 1946). a. jamme, Research on Sabaean Rock Inscriptions from Southwestern Saudi Arabia (Washington DC 1965).

[a. jamme/eds.]

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