06 July 2017 (Abu Dhabi): Bishop Bernard Giovanni Gremoli, Bishop Emeritus of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, passed away to the Lord at 4:30 am on Thursday 06 July 2017 at Florence, Italy. He was 91. His funeral will be held on Saturday 08 July 2017 at 9.30 am at the Capuchin Friary at Montughi, Florence. 


Bishop Gremoli is remembered as a pastor full of zeal and energy in the service of God’s people in the countries of the Arabian peninsula, where he served for 29 years as Apostolic Vicar of the largest jurisdiction of the world. He was untiring in his efforts to unite  the Catholic faithful who came from many communities and faith traditions.  Since his retirement in 2005, Bishop Gremoli lived at the Capuchin Friary at Montughi in Florence, Italy.





Giovanni Gremoli was born on 30 June 1926 in Poppi (Arezzo) in Italy, the second of six children and grew up on the large farm of his family. In 1942 he entered the Capuchins of the Tuscan Province and made his first religious profession on 15 August 1943. On 17 February 1951 he was ordained a priest in Florence. He then specialised in Missiology and obtained a degree in Canon Law at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome. In 1954 he was appointed mission secretary of the Capuchins in Florence to look after the interests of their missions in India, the Gulf and Africa, a post he held until his appointment as Apostolic Vicar of Arabia on 2 October 1975. To improve his English which was essential for his task he spent some weeks in Ireland before his episcopal ordination in Florence on 22 February 1976. On 21 March 1976 he arrived in Abu Dhabi, which after the expulsion of the mission personnel from Aden, had become the official residence of the Apostolic Vicar of Arabia. He was the first Bishop who resided in the Gulf, while the seven previous Apostolic Vicars all had their headquarters in Aden. He remained for 29 years as Bishop of the largest jurisdiction of the world until he returned to Italy for his retirement on 22 May 2005. Since then he lived in the Capuchin friary of Montughi in Florence.


When Bishop Gremoli arrived in the Gulf, the oil boom was in full swing. Tens of thousands of technicians and labourers came to work in the oil companies and for the construction of new cities, townships and roads. Msgr. Gremoli was faced with urgent problems and serious difficulties. Thousands of Catholics were without any religious assistance. The first pressing problems were to get more places for worship and to find other personnel as the Capuchins of Florence could not satisfy the needs.


Msgr. Gremoli got to work with commitment and determination and managed to find, for a specified time, some priests of other religious congregations. Divine Providence came to his assistance, awakening the desire to become priests in the hearts of some young people who were working in the Gulf. Bishop. Gremoli sent them to study in seminaries for adult vocations in Rome and in India. In a few years seven priests of different nationalities were ordained to be incardinated in the Vicariate: Fr. Felicio Diniz, Fr. John Van Deerlin, Fr. Michael Ivor Egan, Fr. Anthony Lacson, Fr. Michael Cardoz, Fr. Matthew Fernandes, Fr. Lester Mendonsa, and Fr. Francis Jamieson who joined as a priest. The staff was more than doubled, thanks also to the great contribution of the various Capuchin Provinces of India, the Philippines and Lebanon. When Msgr. Gremoli entrusted the Vicariate to the care of his successor in 2005, there were 47 priests, of whom 31 were Capuchins.


No less difficult was the problem of the opening of new centers of worship. In addition to obtaining the various permits, he also had to finance the high construction costs since most of the materials had to come from abroad. With much patience, tact and diplomacy, Msgr. Gremoli managed to surmount all obstacles. Churches and existing schools were expanded, renovated, and modernized. There arose various modern and well organized parish complexes, which, in addition to the church, had the residences of priests and nuns and rooms for catechism, prayer groups, associations. The great mass of the faithful came to meet him with generosity.


During Bishop Gremoli’s thirty years in the Vicariate, at least twelve church buildings in Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were blessed: Sts. Peter and Paul Muscat-Ruwi (1977); St. Michael’s Sharjah (1977); St. Joseph’s Cathedral (Al Mushrif) (1983); St. Francis Xavier Salalah, (1984); Holy Spirit, Muscat-Ghala (1987); St. Mary, Assumption (new building) Dubai (1989); Sacred Heart (new church next to old one), Manama (1991); St. Anthony of Padua Sohar (1994); Sts. Peter and Paul (new building) Muscat-Ruwi (1995); St. Michael’s Sharjah (new church in Al Yarmouk) (1997); St. Francis of Assisi Dubai-Jebel Ali (2001) and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Fujairah (2002). Fujairah also got its own school.


In addition to the material development of the Vicariate, Msgr. Gremoli also undertook with great earnestness the pastoral development of the parishes, taking care of the spiritual assistance to the different communities, associations, language groups and different rites as far as he could. He had to deal with the need for constant movement of priests overcoming visa restrictions to cater to the large numbers of the faithful made up of many nationalities, languages and cultures.


Effective catechetical programmes were begun both for children, young people and later for adults. Texts were printed that were suitable to the particular multicultural situation; preparation courses for catechists were organized in all the parishes and on a diocesan scale. In the Vicariate, at present, according to the latest statistics, there are about 26000 young people who, every year, attend catechism classes, from 5 to 16 years, led by almost 1400 catechists.


Given the vastness of the Vicariate with the difficulty of visas and communication, Msgr. Gremoli decided, from the time of his arrival, to carry out each year the pastoral visit in the whole Vicariate. Although this involved considerable effort, it was still very useful to meet with priests and nuns in the field of their work and share their difficulties. The annual visit was of great encouragement and much comfort to the faithful, especially since the bishop was not confined only to the centers but was pushed into the interior of the respective countries, celebrating many Masses. These visits have also been an excellent opportunity to meet, where possible, the authorities of the various countries and increase good relations even to the point of preparing the way for diplomatic relations with the Vatican in some of the countries.


On 30 March 2001, as he reached the age of 75, Bishop Gremoli handed in his resignation as Apostolic Vicar to Pope John Paul II, as stipulated by canon law. Card. Sepe, the newly appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples acknowledged the resignation but requested the bishop to remain in office, also to prepare for his successor, who still had not been found. On 12 December 2003 the Holy Father appointed Fr.  Paul Hinder, a Swiss Capuchin, as the auxiliary bishop of Msgr. Gremoli. Father Hinder was consecrated in Abu Dhabi on 30 January 2004 by Card. Sepe, attended by the Apostolic Nuncio Msgr. De Andrea who was resident in Kuwait, Bishop Gremoli and Msgr. Francis Micallef, the Apostolic Vicar of Kuwait. Many priests flocked from abroad and the Vicariate and several thousand faithful took part in the solemn and moving ceremony.


On 21 March 2005, Vatican Radio announced officially that the Holy Father John Paul II had accepted the resignation of Bishop Gremoli for reasons of age and had appointed Msgr. Paul Hinder, his Auxiliary as Apostolic Vicar. Bishop Gremoli, on that day, had completed 29 years of service to the Vicariate.


On 31 March 2005, during a solemn celebration presided by the Apostolic Nuncio in Kuwait, Archbishop De Andrea, with the participation of the Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait, representatives of the General Curia of the Capuchin Order, the Ministers Provincial of Tuscany and Switzerland, of a large group of priests, in the presence of thousands of faithful, who crowded the premises of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, in a moving ceremony, Msgr. Gremoli with words of deep emotion, expressed his gratitude to the Lord for having guided him with so much goodness during the 29 years of pastoral service, testifying that he had always experienced His special help, especially in difficult times. All that had been achieved spiritually and materially in the Vicariate would not have been possible without the collaboration of good and zealous priests, the Sisters who were generously committed to the moral and intellectual education of youth in schools and catechesis, and a large number of hundreds of thousands of loyal faithful, motivated by a great faith and the desire to give a sincere Christian witness.


The Vicariate, as a precious vineyard of the Lord, despite being planted in the wilderness, had flourished wonderfully in many achievements and good works. Msgr. Gremoli said that this vineyard, to which he had devoted his whole being, would continue to bear abundant fruit under the care and guidance of Msgr. Paul Hinder, to whom he wished great success.


During the solemn celebration, the priests and faithful expressed their profound gratitude to Bishop Bernard and warmest wishes to Bishop Paul, to whom they assured full support and cooperation. Msgr. Gremoli definitively left the Vicariate on 23 May 2005 and returned to his religious Province. 


During the initial years following his retirement, Bishop Gremoli was often invited to meetings of the bishops, religious and cultural associations as speaker and was also given some prizes/ medals. In the last few years his memory diminished and he lived a very withdrawn life of prayer and gazing into the future to come.





When I came to Abu Dhabi on 21 March 1976, a few weeks after my silver jubilee of priesthood and my ordination as a bishop, to take charge of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia, there were only 12 priests in the whole territory. My predecessors had resided in Aden (Yemen) for almost a century, but the political unrest made it necessary to move the see of the bishop to Abu Dhabi which had the advantage of being in the middle of the Vicariate stretching from Aden to Bahrain and from Muscat to Jeddah.


The discovery and exploitation of oil reserves led to the arrival of thousands of expatriate workers. For the many Catholics among them there were neither places of worship nor schools for their children. Through negotiations with the rulers and local authorities I was gradually able to get plots for the construction of churches, schools and parish centres where we have always enjoyed great freedom in religious worship. From the beginning the faithful took a very active part in the growth of the Church.


Our Catholics came from the Indian subcontinent, from the Middle East, from South-East Asia, from Europe and progressively from ever more countries from all over the globe. It was a challenging task to create unity among the faithful of many different nationalities, races and rites and to cater for the interests of the various Oriental Churches, who all belonged to the same parish, the same Vicariate. It was wonderful to see how the different communities shared their spiritual riches and made the Church a meeting point of cultures and ecclesial traditions.


The clergy also increased and became more international through the arrival of priests from India, the Middle East and the Philippines as the Tuscan Capuchins could no longer cope with the needs of the local church. Besides the Capuchin friars incardinated priests, Salesian Fathers as well as sisters of different congregations came to serve the Vicariate. The annual general meeting of all the priests helped to strengthen the unity in the pastoral approach.


Every year I visited each parish for several days to meet the faithful and the pastoral teams to build vibrant communities. Through cordial relations in everyday life the Catholics live in harmony with the other Christian denominations. Christians and Muslims live in mutual respect, accept each other and get to understand each other by living and working together.


I am grateful for the experience of my almost 30 years in the Gulf. I had to face many challenges and to overcome all sorts of obstacles but I always felt the grace of God at work, making me grow as a human being and in my faith commitment. I pray for my successor, Bishop Paul Hinder, all the priests and sisters and the ever increasing number of faithful in the Vicariate.


The Lord is with you, trust in him and he will take care of you.



Bishop Bernardo Giovanni Gremoli, OFM Cap.


[News Courtesy: Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia]

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