The UAE's Catholic community has said its bond with the church will deepen and its faith will grow stronger when Pope Francis visits the Gulf region for the second time in November.
The announcement of Pope Francis’s visit to Bahrain on November 3-6 has thrilled UAE residents who took part in the celebrations to welcome the pontiff during his maiden visit to the Gulf in February 2019.
Several are hoping to travel to Bahrain and others will watch online a public Mass scheduled for November 5 at the Bahrain National Stadium.
“This second visit shows this region is in the heart of the church,” said Gerard Bselis, who lends his bass baritone voice to Dubai's St Mary’s Catholic Church choir and sings hymns in Arabic and French.
He was among more than 150 singers and musicians in the choir at the Papal Mass in Abu Dhabi three years ago, which was attended by tens of thousands of people.
“This has a really big meaning because it shows this region is getting the attention from the Holy See," said Mr Bselis, a Syrian-French national, who has made the UAE his home for the past 25 years. "Most of us are from different countries and it means a lot to be part of this when we are far from home.
“The first visit in history is always a big thing but the second visit consolidates the message.”
Mr Bselis and his wife Lorna Abdo, an alto with the choir, hope to be part of a group involved in the functions in Bahrain or plan to be in the country to attend the ceremonies.
Fr Maxim Cardoza, the parish priest at St Paul’s Church in Abu Dhabi, welcomed Pope Francis reaching out to different countries in the region.
“There is enthusiasm among people who were not able to see him the last time and a desire to go to Bahrain,” he said.
Fr Cardoza was on the altar in Abu Dhabi for the first Mass celebrated by a pope in the Arabian peninsula. He said he had strong memories of the event.
“Being so close to him makes us feel emotional,” Fr Cardoza said.
“It was a rare moment to be on the altar celebrating Mass together. It boosts our faith and tells us we are connected with the Vatican.”
He said the theme of peace and goodwill selected for the pope’s Bahrain visit was significant for the region.
“There is a bond created when the Pope visits. This is not just for Catholics, it’s for everyone, particularly to have a pope coming to a Muslim-majority country,” he said.
“The theme then was fraternity and integration of religions. There is a similar theme now. The message the pope gives is that our faith may be different but we need to walk together as brothers and sisters.”
For other UAE Catholics unable to travel to Bahrain owing to work and financial constraints, the news of the visit still brought joy.
“To see him again even if it’s online, you feel closer to the faith and to God as well,” said Beatriz Lamanero, a volunteer at St Michael’s Church in Sharjah.
“Everyone is looking forward to it and we feel thankful to be in the same region.”
Joyson Dsouza said singing for the Mass in Abu Dhabi was one of his most memorable experiences.
“I could see him clearly and it was the best feeling ever,” said Mr Dzouza, a music teacher in a Dubai school.
“His visit spreads positivity. I will not be able to take leave from work to go to Bahrain but no matter, I will make sure I will listen to the Mass in November. Having him close just makes our belief so much stronger.”
Pope Francis will visit the cities of Manama and Awali during his trip. He will visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia and address a conference on ‘East and West for Human Coexistence’ as part of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue.
Registration details for the Holy Mass at the Bahrain National Stadium will be published on the official Bahrain Papal Visit website.
The pope accepted an invitation from Bahrain’s King Hamad and the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, headed by Bishop Paul Hinder.