Tens of thousands flock to Easter Sunday services in UAE amid calls for peace in Holy Land

Huge congregations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai mark key Christian festival taking place during time of conflict

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Tens of thousands of Catholics attended Easter Sunday services across the UAE as Pope Francis called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza in his traditional address to mark the religious festival.

Large turnouts were recorded with the first masses at St Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi and St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai starting from 4am.

Dozens of services were held during the day in both churches and in multiple languages such as Arabic, Malayalam and Urdu.

Fr Darick D'Souza told The National about 70,000 worshippers were expected at St Joseph’s Cathedral alone for the ceremonies.

“Easter is the most important festival for all Christians around the world because it carries the foundation of the Christian faith,” said Fr D'Souza, who is secretary to Paolo Martinelli, bishop of Southern Arabia.

“All around the world all Christians go to the church to participate in the Easter service,” he said.

“Thanks to the reorganisation of the weekend, our faithful can now participate in the Easter service, which is an obligation for all the Catholics,” said Fr D’Souza, referring to how in 2022 the UAE switched the weekend from Friday and Saturday to Saturday and Sunday.

Easter Sunday marks Jesus rising from the dead, three days after he was crucified. Services take place throughout the week and culminate on Sunday.

Easter services were also scheduled to take place at St Francis Church in the Abrahamic Family House on Saadiyat Island and other Catholic churches across the country.

It is believed there are about a million Catholics in the UAE.

Pope condemns global wars

Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church, delivered a traditional Easter message on Sunday, which focused on the deadly conflict in Gaza.

The Pontiff held Mass in St Peter's Square in the Vatican City before issuing a plea for peace during his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" address from the Vatican.

He underlined the urgent need for humanitarian aid to be delivered to the Gaza Strip and pressed for the release of hostages seized on October 7 and for an immediate ceasefire.

And Fr D’Souza also emphasised the message of peace issued by Bishop Paolo Martinelli.

“Bishop Paolo has highlighted that every Christian is called to be peacemakers in this world,” said Fr D’Souza.

The bishop “called for prayers for peace in the Holy Land, Ukraine and rest of the world where conflict is still prevalent," he said.

“Peace in the Holy Land is always important not just for Christians but also for Islam and Jews as these three religions have some of the most holy sites in this place.”

Pope Francis last week denounced the “senseless tragedy of war” and vowed to support Christians caught up in conflict.

The pontiff lamented children being “robbed of their future” and said he was aware of the “suffering and struggles” endured by many, in a letter directed to Catholics in the region and that was shared online by the Vatican.

He criticised the “pointless folly of war” scarring the world and urged worshippers to pray for peace before the Easter holiday.

While Pope Francis did not mention Palestine or Gaza by name, the Holy Land is considered by the Catholic faith to encompass Israel and Palestine.

Updated: March 31, 2024, 1:08 PM