Siji Antony was initially thrilled when, after many hurdles, she received her visa for a medical nurse’s job in Saudi Arabia in 2013. A handsome salary and the lure of a big city added to the excitement. But her joy was short-lived.
The restrictions on the practices of her Catholic faith in the kingdom was a major cause for concern. In her home state of Kerala in southern India, she attended Mass daily. “The prospect of living without Sunday Mass was horrifying for me,” she said. Siji belongs to the Syro-Malabar rite, one of the three rites that make up the Catholic Church in India. Based in Kerala, they trace the origin of their faith to St Thomas the Apostle who, according to tradition, visited India in the first century and where it is said he died.
Starved of a religious practice she was accustomed too, Siji thought of inviting her Christian colleagues on Sundays for group prayer in her hostel room.
“I can only pray silently in my room. I have done so for the last four years. I speak of my miseries to God directly,” Siji told. She is now searching for a job in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the rulers permit people to practice their different faiths.
Of these, church records list some 400,000 Catholics of the Syro-Malabar rite. A 2013 church survey revealed some 75 percent of the migrants are young people aged between 20 and 32. Fr Shaji Kochupurayil, secretary of the Syro-Malabar Church’s Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants, said the migrants have spread across nations such as Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The situation in Saudi Arabia “is very difficult” regarding religious practices of Christians, Father Kochupurayil told.