Tens of thousands celebrated Easter Sunday Mass in the UAE after two years of restrictions on attendance caused by the pandemic.
There were thousands of worshippers at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai on Sunday morning alone to celebrate the Holy Day.
Parish Priest Fr Lennie Connully used the occasion to urge churchgoers to dedicate their prayers to Ukrainians after their home country was invaded by Russia.
“The world is not a peaceful place right now. There are a lot of countries that are experiencing suffering and turmoil,” he said.
“The UAE is an example of a country where there is peace and we have to pray that same peace spreads to other places.
“There are so many places that don’t have the peace we have, especially those suffering in Ukraine right now.”
He called on his parish to pray for all the refugees across the world.
“Mankind is mankind and we are all brothers and sisters at the end of the day,” said Fr Connully.
“We pray for those living in countries where war is raging and who are not lucky enough to be celebrating mass today.”
On Sunday, 10 services were taking place in various languages throughout the day.
The authorities in Dubai also came in for special praise from Fr Connully for allowing worshippers to return in increased numbers on Easter Sunday.
“The authorities were very generous in accepting our proposal for Easter Sunday attendance at Mass,” he said.
“They did not question anything and it feels like it did in pre-Covid times, apart from wearing masks and social distancing.
“People have been very patient over the past two years when they were not able to worship in church, however, it looks like that patience is paying off.”
While worshippers were inside the church, thousands more were standing outside listening to the service on speakers, all required to wear masks despite being outdoors.
Fr Connully said this was a vital part of his church’s proposal to allow an increased attendance on Sunday.
St Mary’s reopened last year with attendance limited to only 230 people who had to register in advance.
However, the church’s website now carried a notification stating registration was no longer required.
Among those attending mass in St Mary’s was Filipina receptionist Joanne Victorio, 32.
“Easter Sunday Mass is a tradition that we really missed. It’s great to have it back,” she said.
Jason Vaz, 40, was equally delighted to be able to celebrate Easter Sunday in a church again with others.
“It’s very important we have it back and are able to share the experience with the Catholic community here in Dubai,” said the retail worker from India.
“While you could watch Mass online during the pandemic, it just wasn’t the same.”
Irishman John McGee, 81, also attended Mass on Sunday morning, after visiting Dubai for the weekend with his daughter, who lives in nearby Saudi Arabia.
“Easter Sunday is very important to me because it’s at the very centre of the Christian faith,” said Mr McGee.
“It’s the celebration of Christ rising from the dead and being able to celebrate that in person again with others is fantastic.”
Edna Cariaga, 44, from the Philippines, said being able to celebrate Easter Mass in church was vital to many members of her community.
“It brings families together and you get a big sense of the community coming together,” the housemaid said.
“We’ve really missed it.”
One of her compatriots, also attending the service, shared her sentiment.
“We really missed it because it just wasn’t the same when the churches were closed,” said housemaid Mary Jane Labitan, 52.
“You can see people are so happy just to be here again.”
Dubai was not the only emirate with a huge turnout of worshippers, as hundreds attended Easter Sunday Mass at St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi.
“It was so important to have people back to celebrate Easter in the church,” said Rev Christine Trainor.
“It was glorious to see so many celebrating this sacred holiday.
“It was a really joyous occasion and people were so glad to be back together.”