Dubai: History is usually told in the written form.
On Thursday night, the story of St Mary’s Catholic Church parish's 50 years in Dubai was told not only with words but — in the city's typical innovative fashion — with a computer-driven laser light-and-sound show, too.
A huge number of parishioners turned up to mark the church community's 50th anniversary on Thursday with a thanksgiving service and honouring of UAE leaders for their generosity and religious tolerance.
St Mary's is believed to be the largest Catholic parish in the region in terms of attendance of more than 100,000 parishioners on special occasions.
Bishop Paul Hinder, Abu Dhabi-based Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, represented Pope Francis, who is himself currently in Cairo attending an inter-faith conference on religious tolerance.
The Swiss-born Bishop urged the parishioners to remain true to who they are, to stay faithful to the path set out for them by the church fathers and continue what they started 50 years ago "in the name of unity, peace, justice, mutual understanding, and tolerance."
His Grace Archbishop Francisco Montecillo Padilla, Apostolic Nuncio (Pope's ambassador), was also present during the event along with other religious leaders.
Ahmad Julfar, Director-General of Community Development Authority, was also present.
Fr Lennie J.A. Connully, from the Capuchin order who is St Mary's Church's parish priest, in his speech thanked God for using various people as channels of blessing to the church, among whom are the leaders of the UAE.
The church stands on land donated by Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, then the Ruler of Dubai, was inaugurated on April 7, 1967 by Shaikh Rashid himself.
Attached to the church is a school run by nuns that instruct students from various nationalities.
Fr Connully said: “This nation has welcomed us so much. It has given us everything we asked. Above all, it gave us a place to worship and practice our religion.”
To reciprocate this generosity and religious tolerance, Fr. Connully said the church aims to give a gift to the UAE as well by giving back to the community as the country marks the Year of Giving this year.
The church has grown in number, whith the a crowd that swells to well over 100,000 during Christmas. On a regular Friday, around 40,000 people of various nationalities attend the dozen-plus multi-lingual mass services held throughout the day.
Susan Jose Desmond, from the Good Samaritan group, presented the cheque of Dh525,000 to Emirates Red Crescent that was raised for the treatment of cancer patients during the Church's Mercithon earlier this year.
The various community groups at the church also prepared cultural presentations.
The event culminates months of community prayer of thanksgiving as well as petitions for God’s providence, mercy and protection in the run-up to the golden jubilee celebrations.
Shows, songs and dances highlighting the rich traditions of the different communities that together comprise the parish also marked the event.
As the parish marked its golden jubilee, a sense of community and camaraderie has glued the catholic community in Dubai, made up of people from various cultural backgrounds and languages.
“The church is a place where people come to pray. During worship, they are inspired to take up acts of mercy and reach out to others,” said Fr Connully, outlining the church’s vast network of outreach programmes.
The journey of St Mary’s Church parish in Dubai started in 1967 on land donated by the Dubai government then ruled by Shaikh Rashid, the late father His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai.
AT A GLANCE:
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Dubai, was founded by Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, then Ruler of Dubai, in 1966 when he donated land for its construction.
Rev Fr Eusebius Daveri and Fr Eugene Mattioli spearheaded the project. Shaikh Rashid inaugurated the church in April 1967.