DUBAI // As people enjoyed National Day yesterday, a group of happy couples had an additional reason to celebrate. At St Mary's Catholic Church, 14 couples exchanged vows or had them blessed at a mass wedding ceremony.
The event marked the 15th year of a project launched by the Filipino community in Dubai that allows couples to solemnise their union in church at minimal cost. Father Tomasito Veneracion, the parish priest, officiated the ceremony along with a fellow Filipino priest, Father Antonio Yapchiangco. "Everyone wants to get married," Father Veneracion told the couples. "A little girl dreams of walking down the aisle and now it has come true. Today is your special day.
"This is one of the best days of your life. The rewards will come later. To all of you, good luck and have a good life together." Of the 14 couples taking part, nine were having their vows blessed in church following civil marriages, while five were tying the knot for the first time. All were Filipino. One of the nine, Felix Rabasto, 44, and Odessa Matamis, 32, walked down the aisle with their two children Angela, eight and Prince James, two.
"I couldn't sleep last night," Ms Matamis said. "It has been my dream to have a church wedding for a long time. I feel relieved now that our union is blessed by God." Mr Rabasto said their daughter was more excited than her mother. "The good thing about this is that they get to witness their own parents getting married in church and they could talk later about it to their friends," he said. The couple were married in civil rites at the Manila City Hall in April, 1999. Both have worked in Dubai since then.
Ericson Mate, 25, and Resalayn Relucio, 24, were among the young couples to wed for the first time. "We've known each other since college in 2002 and now work for the same company in Dubai," Mr Mate said. "Although we could get married at the consulate, we wanted a church wedding and this was the perfect opportunity for us." They plan to have another church service in the Philippines next year so that both their families can enjoy a similar celebration, he said.
The mass wedding is also open to other nationalities of the Catholic faith. Last year, 20 couples took part, including two from India. Carlo Nacpil, the chairman of this year's mass wedding project, said 200 volunteers were involved in preparations for the big day. The initiative is an attractive option for couples wanting a church blessing after a civil wedding and for those unable to meet the cost of marrying in a church. The mass wedding is also open to other nationalities of the Catholic faith. Last year, 20 couples took part, including two from India. Carlo Nacpil, the chairman of this year's mass wedding project, said 200 volunteers were involved in preparations for the big day. The initiative is an attractive option for couples wanting a church blessing after a civil wedding and for those unable to meet the cost of marrying in a church. Angela Baker, 38, a project manager at the Jebel Ali Free Zone, was at yesterday's event with her two daughters, Maisie, seven, and Scarlett, 15 months. The children were flower girls at the wedding of Dulce Ampoan, 31, and Alexandro Oracion, 35. "It's an excellent opportunity for the couple and I think it's lovely. Dubai is getting expensive for expatriates and it also costs too much to wed in their own country," said Mrs Baker, from Glasgow, Scotland. "My nanny, Nelly, is standing in for the bride's mum in this wedding. We're happy for the couple." Since it began in 1994, more than 600 people have been married in the mass wedding project. Organisers helped couples with their documentation in the run-up to their big day. Yesterday, the organisers provided the choir, church decorations, photographers, video-makers, souvenir items and snacks. firstname.lastname@example.org