AL AIN // These are happy days for the city's Orthodox Copts as they will for the first time celebrate Christmas Mass in a church of their own.
Until last week, the congregation relied on other churches such as St Mary's Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church for space to worship.This month, however, the doors to St Mary's Orthodox Coptic Church opened in the Mezyad District of the city.
Father Sawerus El Ambabeshoiy knelt down in prayer, offering thanks to God and the Coptic communities of the UAE and Egypt for the donations that made his dream a reality. He has waited 32 years to hold mass in a purpose-built Orthodox Coptic church in Al Ain.
Last week, members of the Coptic community were touring their new place of worship, built on land deeded by the Abu Dhabi government, setting up Christmas decorations, holding mass, and teaching Sunday school.
"God's hand was at work here," Father El Ambabeshoiy said. "This land was donated to us by the Abu Dhabi government with love and a big heart."
Only nine days ago, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, officially opened St Mary's alongside the Metropolis Archbishop Anba Abraham, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Gulf and Near East who praised the UAE's policy of wisdom, tolerance and respect for others' beliefs.
"We have seen love and support from the leaders and people of the UAE by allowing us to practice in a place of love and security," said Father El Ambabeshoiy. "For decades, the UAE has welcomed us with open arms and for us it is a place of safety and security.
"We live in peace and exist to teach our own about our own religion."
As he stood at the entrance to the church, Father El Ambabeshoiy, a bearded and humble man, spoke softly as he described how the church came to be.
"Each part of this church was donated to us by someone in the community," he said. "Someone donated the air conditioning system, someone else donated the brick and mortar, while other UAE Coptic congregations donated money. This was an effort that brought our community closer together."
For Dr Karem Suleiman, a member of the congregation, the building of the church is as close to his heart as building his own family home.
"We used to rent space from various Al Ain churches, and we had to work around their schedules due to differences in the languages, nationalities and worship customs, so we couldn't always join other services," he said. "Owning your own home is different than renting someone else's. Now the Orthodox Coptic community owns its own home."