The nation celebrates Pope Francis’s arrival
Visit will be a life-changing event for many of the UAE’s one million Catholics
It is no exaggeration to say that, for many of the UAE’s Catholic residents, attending a papal mass is a dream come true – a moment that will stay with them. With that moment will come a lifetime of gratitude to the UAE’s rulers, who last year invited Pope Francis to visit the country and have fostered a society in which freedom of worship is afforded to all. As one attendee, Michelle Escobar from the Philippines, told The National after collecting her ticket for the mass, “I felt different just holding it.”
After months of preparation and growing excitement, the Pope’s visit is now upon us. In the coming days, he will deliver a blessing to 135,000 people in Zayed Sport City Stadium, hold a historic interfaith meeting and pay a visit to the Founder’s Memorial. Meanwhile, the region’s Catholics will come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of the head of their church. Leading, as he does, 1.2 billion people, scattered across the world from Rome to Rio de Janeiro and beyond, Pope Francis is a beacon of multiculturalism. Through him, hundreds of nationalities are united in prayer.
The Catholic community is deeply embedded in the UAE. Islam has long been the predominant faith in these lands, but it was clear as early as the 1960s that new arrivals brought with them their own traditions of worship. In that decade, St Joseph’s church opened on Abu Dhabi Corniche. Aerial photographs from the time show it surrounded by soft, unspoiled sand. But, just as Abu Dhabi has grown, from a quiet town to a bustling 21st-century metropolis, so too has the UAE’s Catholic community. In 1982, the church found a new location to accommodate more worshippers, and other churches have since sprung up. Today, the country’s Catholics number one million, hailing from the Philippines, Europe, the Indian subcontinent and even further afield.
An extraordinary amount of work has been undertaken in preparation for this visit. From the towering screens erected at Zayed Sport City, to security and transport, the landmark arrival of Pope Francis presents a logistical challenge of epic proportions. This is, after all, one of the most significant events to occur in the UAE since its founding. Those quietly working around the clock to facilitate it can rest assured that they are part of history in the making. And for the Catholics of the UAE, many of whom will rise early and make the journey from Dubai to Abu Dhabi on a veritable fleet of buses, it will be life changing.
Updated: February 2, 2019 07:34 PM