Christians in Abu Dhabi? “Churches are packed”
ABU DHABI – The first Catholic Church of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was constructed in 1965, marking and encouraging the presence of Christians in this Union of seven Emirates of the Arabian Peninsula. Fifty years later, on the occasion of a jubilee, the Christian community continues to grow in number with the inauguration of the second church in Abu Dhabi on June 11 – 12. A clear sign of this vibrant Catholic community!
With numerous architectural and infrastructure projects, the UAE draws a large number of foreign workers from Southeast Asia mostly from India and the Philippines, and also from neighboring Arab countries (Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq). Among them are many baptized Christians, that today represent 10 % of the total population of Abu Dhabi. A figure that has been increasing over fifty years. This is the reason why the project of building a new and second church in the capital city of UAE came into reality. “The Cathedral of Abu Dhabi, with a capacity of 1,000 seats, is too small to accommodate all the faithful, explained Bishop Paul Hinder, OFM Cap, apostolic Vicar of South Arabia (which includes Yemen, UAE and Oman) in an interview with the APIC news agency in 2014. Masses are regularly celebrated in different languages, and the church is overflowing with people for most of the Masses. On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the faithful pack St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Two celebrations are held, each celebration is attended by about 7,000-8,000 faithful.”
The cornerstone was blessed on June 29, 2013 at Mussafah by Bishop Paul Hinder. The municipality of this suburban industrial town of Abu Dhabi offered the land. On June 11, 2015 was the official inauguration of the Church by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Youth and Community Development, in the presence of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State. The consecration is scheduled for the next day when the Church will be named after Saint Paul. ” Saint Paul has great significance in the history of the Catholic Church in the Gulf, which is dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul,” said a statement of the Vicariate.
Challenges of a Church of foreigners on a Muslim Land
At APIC, Bishop Hinder recalled the particularity of this “Church of foreigners for foreigners.” Christians of different nationalities gather, different languages and rites can resemble puzzle: “It is not always possible to have a priest for every rite. The Pope himself asked that we have one jurisdiction for all Catholic Christians in this region. We live a new experience of Church, a true laboratory of the catholicity of the Church. ”
Community activities are only organized in the church, the only authorized place for Christian gatherings. Moreover, the buildings bear no crosses or bells. “In Islamic countries, missionary work has a different meaning and proselytizing is prohibited,” says the bishop, nevertheless ensuring that relations with local authorities are good and cordial.
The permission for the construction of a new church is indeed a good sign in the Middle East that in recent years, witnessed the destruction of Christian buildings. Against the voice of those who want to remove any Christian presence in the region, Sheikh Nahyan in October invited Catholics to support the country in its economic development and to promote peaceful coexistence. A brave and encouraging statement.
Pierre Loup de Raucourt