Dubai: The largest Catholic parish in the region will mark the 50th anniversary of its founding in April and in the process stands testament to the spirit of religious tolerance that has made its members feel at home and eager to give back to the community with a host of activities lined up for the occasion.
The St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai will celebrate its Golden Jubilee on April 27 and 28 with a number of community activities that align with the Year of Giving initiative. Months-long preparations and weekly celebrations started in November as a build-up to the main event next month.
“Our celebration of the jubilee is also the celebration of the 50 years of religious tolerance here in the UAE. We have been blessed by the benevolence of the Rulers and we are grateful to them,” Fr Lennie J.A. Connully OFM Cap, parish priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, told Gulf News.
“Our message is we are happy we are here. We are grateful to the Rulers and we are celebrating 50 years of religious tolerance as a gift from this country and therefore we want to give a gift to this country as well by giving back to the community.”
The church has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the 1960s, Fr Connully said. The Catholic community in Dubai did not have a church at the time and was being served by a priest from Bahrain. They held one mass a week at embassies or their homes for a group of 10 to 15 people.
As time passed by, a priest, Fr Barnabas Madii, was called to permanently reside in Dubai to serve the congregation. In 1965, Fr Eusebio Daveri arrived in Dubai and he approached Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum with a request for a plot of land for a house of worship.
“Shaikh Rashid readily obliged. He said, ‘Take what you want’. He did not have second thoughts. He said, yes, this is what my heart tells, that I need everyone in my country, and he did that,” Fr Connully said.
Soon after, construction of the first church, with a capacity to accommodate 300 people, began in Oud Metha. The foundation stone for the church was laid by Shaikh Rashid himself in May 1966. The church was inaugurated on April 7, 1967.
As Dubai grew, so did the number of Catholics coming to Dubai for work. Fr Connully said a new church was constructed in 1989 to accommodate more people.
At present, around 80,000 people come to mass every week at St Mary’s. On special occasions, the number could rise to between 100,000 and 200,000 people, and Fr Connully reminded members of the parish to never forget their responsibility to the UAE society at large.
“When somebody welcomes you into their home, you must get integrated into it, don’t remain a stranger. This country has offered you a job, that’s why you are here: give your 100 per cent and more to the country and its development. Nation-building should be within the call of every Christian.”
This year’s celebration will be marked with more services to the community throughout the year. The church started with Mercithon last month, a walkathon to raise funds for the treatment of six cancer patients. All funds raised were donated to Emirates Red Crescent.
“The church always functions spiritually and corporally. Corporal works of mercy are very important to the church; it’s not only prayer. So we will be continuously doing that until the end of 2017. Even though the jubilee functions may be over, our activities geared towards giving will continue.”
St Mary’s Catholic Church, Dubai
Asian Communities: Keralites (largest in the Indian community), Tamil, Telugu, Karnataka and Mangaloreans, Konkani, Goans, North Indians and Singhs, Pakistanis or the Urdu community, The Filipino community (biggest in numbers), Bangladeshi, Sri Lankans (major community), Indonesians, Koreans, and Chinese.
Africans (growing community): Nigerians, Kenyans, Ethiopians, Erithreans (major ones), Ugandans, South Africans
European: Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, French (major), Germans
East European: Russians, Ukranians, Polish (big community), Slovaks
Weekdays: 4 English masses daily
Fridays and Sundays: 7 English masses
Saturdays: 6 English masses
12 active priests
Other language masses and services
Arabic mass, French mass, Konkani mass, Malayalam mass, Malankara rite, Tamil mass, Sinhalese mass, Urdu mass, Portuguese mass, Polish mass, Ukranian mass