Tidings of comfort and joy …

Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Parishioners of the St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Jebel Ali sing Christmas carols. Antonie Robertson / The National
Parishioners of the St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Jebel Ali sing Christmas carols. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // Christians around the world gather on Thursday to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Among them will be the 20,000 or so devout Catholics who attend mass each week at St Francis of Assisi church in Dubai.

Christmas Day in the UAE is a joyous occasion for Christians of all denominations, who enjoy the freedom to practise their religion in their adopted home.

“Christmas is a busy season and programmes we have in church, like carol singing, that started here since year one when the church opened, really help to get the community together,” said Roshan Chacko.

“People may be far away from home, but they come together here to pray, to reflect and also to celebrate.”

Parishioners are kept busy with carol singing and the church’s annual barbecue. As part of a crib competition judges also visit people’s homes to rate how they have set up the nativity scene.

The church in Jebel Ali, a sandstone-coloured place of worship, was inaugurated in 2001 to cope with the growing population in New Dubai. Catholics earlier attended St Mary’s church in Oud Metha, the city’s first Catholic church inaugurated in 1967.

“People at home are surprised to hear that there are churches in the UAE and when my family visits next year this is one place I will bring them to,” said Tomas Klein, a German automobile manager.

“When I came here two months ago from Hamburg without my family it gave me a sense of relief and peace on Fridays or Saturday to hear and sing familiar hymns.”

Apart from regular mass in English, services are also conducted in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Sinhalese, Tagalog, Arabic and in Indian languages such as Konkani, Malayalam and Tamil.

“I’ve been a parishioner here from day one. It’s like my second home, we feel like this is our own church,” said Mr Chacko. “We were initially a small group of less than 50 people when the church opened its door. In other churches you attend mass and leave but this has always felt like our own because we were there when it started. There is diversity because workers from the labour camps, businessmen, students all come here. We have so many nationalities, it is difficult to count.”

As well as the two Catholic churches in Dubai, there are also churches in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Fujairah, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.

The weekly prayers are a source of guidance to many.

“I like to talk to the priests; if I need some help about something in my job I also talk to them,” said Athula Perera, a worker at a cement factory.

“It makes my mind light. During festivals when I miss my family, my home then also I come here so I can forget I’m alone.”

While older parishioners flock to pray in the main hall, several groups of young people head to the ground floor of the church where they volunteer their time to spread the word among the youth and children.

Keenan D’Abreo, 17, a grade 12 student enjoys being an assistant catechist that involves teaching 5-6 year olds the principles of the religion.

“We just tell the children to thank God for the gifts they have, to respect others. I also like raising money for church charity events. I like how all the community events involve regular people and everyone gets to meet and not be left out.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Published: December 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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