Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 14 November 2019

Abu Dhabi Catholic resident in need of surgery has faith that Pope visit will heal him

Calistus Silva needs urgent operations to fix his cataracts and damaged nerves, but has postponed them until after the papal visit

Calistus Silva has put off his eye surgery until after the Pope leaves. He will be taking part in the Pope's mass by helping give communion. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Calistus Silva has put off his eye surgery until after the Pope leaves. He will be taking part in the Pope's mass by helping give communion. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Abu Dhabi resident Calistus Sunil Silva is looking forward to seeing Pope Francis’s landmark Mass on Tuesday so much that he has put off vital eye surgery until after the event.

The banker, 66, from Sri Lanka, will be taking part in the first papal Catholic Mass in the Arabian Peninsula this week, distributing communion to the congregation as an extraordinary communion minister.

He needs urgent operations to fix his cataracts and damaged nerves, but has postponed them until after the visit.

Now he is hoping that the pontiff's presence could lead to a “miracle” that will cure him.

“This could be an opportunity to get cured,” he said.

“I’m going [to the Mass] in faith. Even if I don’t talk to him and he doesn’t touch me, by my faith in God, a miracle can happen.”

Mr Silva is hoping that the Holy See's presence could lead to a “miracle” that will cure him. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Mr Silva is hoping that the Holy See's presence could lead to a “miracle” that will cure him. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Mr Silva has been given advanced notice from his employers and will be leaving the UAE in September after 11 years in the country, yet he was grateful that the timing of the Pope's visit means he will get to see him.

Pope Francis visited Sri Lanka in 2016, but Mr Silva was in the UAE and unable to travel for the event,

“I think it is a grace to be able to see the Pope with my own eyes, a privilege. A man who I admire as a model. It will create an impact on our lives as well as that of the Catholic community," he said.

Raised a Catholic, Mr Silva did not truly find his faith in his religion until the tragic death of his only sister from leukemia when he was 24.

"The way she faced death was a challenge to me. She would say, ‘I’m leaving’, but be smiling.

She was very religious. I was struggling, but this event made me think ‘where did a dying person get this power?’

"A dying person is behaving as a person who is really living, while the person living is almost dead inside. This brought me to faith."

Mr Silva is now an extraordinary Eucharistic minister at St Joseph's Cathedral, the UAE's oldest Catholic church, and also a Grade 7 catechist – a teacher of religious principles – and a prayer group leader for the Sri Lankan community.

He praised the UAE for allowing residents the freedom and tolerance to practice their religion, unlike other Gulf states, and Pope Francis for his compassion.

"I see Christ in him," he said. "I really look at him as inspiration."

"He is very different to previous Popes. He’s more of a people orientated man, very humble and he projects the passion and love that Jesus Christ taught during his lifetime."

Pope Francis will arrive in the capital on Sunday night, before meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Monday.

He will meet around 300 parishioners from all of the UAE's nine Catholic churches at St Joseph's on Tuesday morning, including migrant workers and families with disabled children, and hold a public Mass for 135,000 people at Zayed Sports City.

Updated: February 4, 2019 09:52 PM

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