'Guardian angel' Church of South India to open in Abu Dhabi

Indian Protestant community describes the space as a 40-year-old dream come true

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Hundreds of worshippers will soon be be able to visit the long-awaited new Church of South India which is nearing completion in Abu Dhabi.

The winged exterior of the peach and sandstone structure is preparing to welcome the Protestant faithful from across the Emirates.

The community of parishioners from southern India have been waiting for their own space to worship for more than four decades.

“We have been here for 43 years and this is our dream come true to have our own church,” parish priest, Lalji M Philip, told The National.

“The construction is almost done.

“We are very thankful to the UAE government for giving us this land for a church.

“We are not a very big community and are very grateful for the chance to have our own space.”

People have been worshipping every Friday evening at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi since 1979.

Construction began in September 2020 on the steel and cement structure, which is awaiting electricity and water connections from local authorities.

Chandeliers will be fitted in the central skylight, wooden pews and an organ will soon be added, and a multi-purpose room has been built on the ground floor.

The building will hold about 750 people, with an upper balcony section overlooking the main prayer area on the ground floor.

While the 5,000-strong community is small in the UAE, it is the second-biggest group in India after the Roman Catholic church.

Based in Abu Dhabi’s Al Shahama area, the plot is near an under-construction Hindu temple off the busy Sheikh Zayed Road highway which links Abu Dhabi with Dubai.

One of the large church windows will have a view of the temple in the adjoining area.

Both holy places are symbols of religious freedom in a country that prides itself on being open to diverse faith and cultures.

The involvement of the local community is evident in the planning of the church, which cost about Dh10.8 million.

Ten tall windows have been fitted with stained glass that depict scenes from the Old and New Testament in warm, vivid colours.

The designs feature Noah’s Ark and the Ten Commandments on one side of the hall, and the birth of Jesus on the other.

A close-knit group of church members are part of the project management team and provided the design and theme for the stained-glass windows.

They visited a workshop in Abu Dhabi’s Musaffah area regularly to check on the progress of the panels.

Architect Maher Lamie spoke of the community spirit that galvanised the project.

“The angel’s wings on an elevation outside - it’s as if the angels are taking care of the church. They feel like guardians of the church,” said the Egyptian, who has constructed mosques, churches and towers in the UAE.

“It is a simple octagonal structure from the outside. But on the inside, it is circular, with the idea being to signify a continuous space, one where there is no end.”

Land for the church was granted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Fr Philip said the church would be open to all in keeping with the UAE’s policy of tolerance.

“We pray that whosoever visits the church will find peace, serenity and all the blessings of God,” he said.

“No matter which community or religion visits here, we pray it is a place of blessing to all those who come.

“Prayer is the backbone of the community."

The church will have a choir of 50 parishioners, who will welcome people from across the emirates for Sunday prayers.

Updated: April 22, 2022, 6:20 AM