For the first time in the country, churches of different denominations came together under one roof to “pray for the UAE”.
Bishops, pastors and priests from the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox and Evangelical Churches, as well as hundreds of residents, gathered yesterday in the run-up to Christmas at the Abu Dhabi National Theatre.
“This is our own way to celebrate the UAE’s 46th National Day – through prayer,” said head of the Abu Dhabi Evangelical Church, Pastor Joseph Faragalla.
“We believe that it is through God’s grace that we enjoy peace in this country,” he said. “God gave his wisdom to its leaders, who act for the welfare of its people and the nation. As Christians, we want to support them with our prayers.”
Representatives from the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department were also present at the ceremony, which was held under the patronage of the Minister of Tolerance, Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak.
An ambassador for each church said a one-line prayer for the country and its leadership after a heart-warming and spiritual song was performed by the Better Life choir.
Another highlight was a performance by the Korean and Filipino churches that included a live feed showing the work of sand artist Andrew Magdy. It showed him making some of his greatest pieces, including depictions of eagles, the UAE flag, the world and a young girl praying.
Psychiatrist, lecturer and philosopher Dr Maher Samuel said: “Why pray for this country? I believe many of you have lived for decades in this country. Many of you have jobs here and have given your children the best education possible. In a time where our home countries and the region are in turmoil, and violence and unemployment is rampant, you have lived here in peace and financial stability. We should show our gratitude to the country that has opened its home and heart to us and to the leadership that has shared their wealth with us.”
“Nowhere in the world does tolerance exist to the extent that [the country] has appointed a minister of tolerance,” he said. “I think we should all be grateful.”
He also asked that these thanks become a habit and included in everyone’s prayers.
Earlier this month, and in an unprecedented move in the Arab world, the Abu Dhabi justice system signed an agreement that gives churches the authority to mediate, execute marriages, divorces and soon handle custody issues for the first time.
Priests will now be available in court houses and non-Muslims seeking a divorce will no longer have to go through Sharia-governed mediation. This will also soon apply to non-Muslim wills – residents interested in drawing up a will will soon be able to go through their church instead of court.
Rev. Bishoy Fakhri, pastor of the Cathedral Church in Abu Dhabi, said the new measures were an “exemplary move”.
Father Timothy Heaney, Senior Chaplin of the Anglican Church in Dubai, said: "We are very conscious that we are both guests in this country and a part of this country.
So [we will do] anything we can to help the cohesion of different nationalities here, anything to encourage people to support the rulers of this country in their desire to create a society that is genuinely tolerant and supportive of all its races and creeds.
“As Christians here we are especially conscious of our shared beliefs. We have an overlap of beliefs – Muslims and Christians – as believers in one God. We are committed to sharing God’s message of love and peaceful coexistence so we, the churches, are committed to anything that supports that,” Father Heaney said.