ABU DHABI // Thousands of Roman Catholics will now have easier access to weekly services after the capital inaugurated its second Catholic church.
Religious leaders, including Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, Archbishop Peter Rajic, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Arabian Peninsula, Bishop Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, and Bishop Camillo Ballin, the Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia, attended.
The opening of St Paul’s Church, in Mussaffah, highlights the religious tolerance of the country’s leaders, said Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, who attended the opening.
“The clearest way to appreciate the paramount values valued by Emiratis is to examine the well-documented actions of a single person whom all Emiratis admire.
“That person is the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the leader who united the Arab Emirates,” he told the audience.
“Seven values characteristically marked his actions, and they identify him today. He exhibited the virtues of wisdom, courage, prudence, temperance, loyalty, justice and generosity.
“The President, Sheikh Khalifa, said that ‘the United Arab Emirates has relied, and will continue to rely, on the rich and diverse contributions of its true wealth – its people – to guarantee its prosperity’. That is you.
“Our leadership knows its true wealth and accepts the obligation to respect and understand the many religious beliefs of the people living in this country. I believe that each of you can provide evidence that the leaders of the UAE are fulfilling that obligation.”
The church gives strength to the local Christian community, Cardinal Parolin said.
“I think Christians who live in this country need opportunities to give witness of faith and to grow in their faith. My message to the Christian community is that they may be strengthened in their efforts to grow in their faith, and be charitable to others.
“In the short time that I’ve been here in the UAE, I’ve had the opportunity to see that the church is very lively and, tomorrow, it will be an occasion to meet the community.
“The consecration and dedication of a new church is the sign of vitality and life of this church, taking into consideration the leadership of the local bishop and the local community that this church has been built.”
■ Photo gallery: Inside St Paul's Church in Abu Dhabi
The 4,560-square-metre complex is built on land that was given by Abu Dhabi Municipality, under the directives of the Office of the Crown Prince, in 2011. The foundation stone was laid in June last year and building started the following month.
Bishop Hinder said the community was thankful for the safe environment presented to it.
“We are grateful for the stability and peace that we enjoy in this country. The capital city has experienced enormous growth since the opening of St Joseph’s Cathedral in 1983 and the addition of St Therese Chapel in October last year,” he said.
Last March, thousands celebrated St Joseph’s 50th golden jubilee. The cathedral was established in 1965 on the Corniche when Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan granted about 11 acres of land to the Catholic Church.
In 1983, Sheikh Zayed, the Founding President, donated the land in the Mushrif area, where Bishop Bernard Gremoli built the present church.
The UAE is home to about 900,000 Catholics. For a number of years, roughly 25,000 Catholics who live in Mussaffah, Mohammed bin Zayed City, Khalifa City and other areas had to travel for about 25 kilometres to worship at St Joseph’s.
“It’s unbelievable that we now have a church within this vicinity,” said Bossuet Dias, 57, a mass coordinator for the new church, and who lives in Khalifa City. “We would like to thank the Rulers for allowing us to build this church and for the religious freedom that we enjoy in this country.”
St Paul’s Church, part of the Apostolic of Southern Arabia, expects to serve about 60,000 to 70,000 Catholics, many of whom live in labour camps. At full capacity it can accommodate 1,200.
On Friday, about 5,000 worshippers are expected to attend the first mass.
There will be daily services in English, weekly services in Arabic, Malayalam and Tagalog, a bi-monthly service in Tamil and a monthly service in Konkani.
The parish priest, Father Ani Xavier, will be joined by assistant priests Father Matthew Fernandes and Father Ashok Gonzalves.
“We do enjoy the religious freedom of this country and the credit goes to all its Rulers,” Father Xavier said.
“We pray that the Ruler’s family will be blessed more and more, and that we expatriates enjoy the religious freedom and pray to God more and more.”