Emirates News Agency – Multiple nationalities, diverse faiths, one faith: how Abu Dhabi adapts to diversity

By Guendalina Dainelli

ABU DHABI, 5th November, 2022 (WAM) — By mid-morning on a Saturday in September, the parking lot is already packed with cars. It is almost impossible to find a place to park the car near St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi. At the door, Fr. Darick D’Sousa, the bishop’s secretary, and another priest, Fr. Thomas Sebastian, are waiting for me with a smile.

The cathedral compound is located in the residential area of ​​Al Mushrif, in the heart of Abu Dhabi. “We call this place the precinct of tolerance,” says Father Darick, pointing to the mosque dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus and the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Anthony which stand next to it.

“Not far away are also the churches for the Evangelical community, St. George’s Orthodox Church and St Andrew’s Church for the Anglican community. The Compound, seat of the Vicariate of the South, also includes the bishopric, the Catholic school of Saint-Joseph and the large church of Saint-Thérèse”, he explains.

Many families with children pick up the pace by crossing the alley of palm trees, before the English mass at 10:15 a.m. “We welcome more than 25,000 faithful every weekend, from more than 50 different nationalities,” says Father Sébastien.

“We are always very busy. We celebrate Mass in 16 different languages, from Italian, to French, passing through Korean, without forgetting Arabic for the faithful of Palestine, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon and Egypt. Masses are celebrated according to the Latin, Oriental, Ukrainian, Maronite, Greek-Catholic, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites. »

Mass in English takes place in the Church of Santa Teresa, which is larger than the cathedral and can accommodate up to 1200 people. It is equipped with large screens which broadcast songs and liturgical words. Half an hour before the beginning of the office, which will be celebrated by the bishop emeritus Paul Hinder, the place is already teeming with faithful, mainly Indians and Filipinos.

In the meantime, I chat with Josephina. The 23-year-old from Manila attended six o’clock mass almost every day before starting work as a receptionist. In the back row, I meet Julia and Pablo from Spain, parents of three lively children between the ages of four and eight. “It will be difficult to get to the end of the mass, we stay near the exit to be ready to leave when our patience is exhausted”, they tell me.

Indeed, the parish has also thought of the little ones, with two glass baby rooms that welcome them in a protected place during the holidays. “Last year, 3,347 children were baptized in the South Vicariate and nearly 28,600 children were catechists. More than 1,600 adults serve as catechists, they are all volunteers,” says Father Darick introducing me to Barbara, a German who has lived in Abu Dhabi for seven years.

She works full-time in an energy company with her husband, who are both engineers. “We are very busy but have managed to find a space to teach catechism. Beautiful friendships have been made with many families. At the end of catechism classes, before Holy Communion, we usually organize a spiritual retreat for one night in the desert, we camp with tents all together. We light a fire, cook and pray. We do very simple things. And we collect beautiful unforgettable memories.”

After savoring the warmth and celebration of people, belonging to multiple nationalities but united by faith, I go out. As I walk to my car, I wonder about the contrast between stereotypes about the Arab world and the wonderful example of acceptance and tolerance I have just witnessed.

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