Churches in the UAE are still closed. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Churches across the UAE are not yet open, but are making final preparations, including undertaking extensive disinfection programmes, before eventually welcoming visitors.

UAE authorities had earlier announced that places of worship across the country would reopen on July 1 amidst strict precautionary measures, lifting the temporary closure of mosques, churches and temples on March 16 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia (AVOSA), the governing body of the Catholic church in the UAE, Oman and Yeman, posted on its website: “Our churches in the various emirates are working closely with the Community Development Authority and other relevant government entities responsible for ensuring a safe environment for the places of worship during the pandemic.”

“Our priority remains to ensure a safe environment for our faithful … Please note that our churches will open only after the operating policies and procedures for places of worship in the respective emirates are finalised and the necessary safety mechanisms are approved by the authorities concerned,” it added.

AVOSA noted: “Following the finalisation of policies and obtaining the necessary approvals, every parish will release instructions on opening hours, the nature of the prayer services to be conducted and details of all the services that will be available on the parish premises.”

'Challenging times'

“Our faithful are kindly requested to await the relevant communication, which will be posted on the parish website and parish social channels in due course,” it added.

AVOSA also expressed its gratitude to the UAE and its departments “who have been working round the clock to support our communities during these challenging times".

Fr Lennie J.A. Connully OFM Cap, parish priest at St Marys Catholic Church, Dubai, said: “Once we have prepared the church and premises as per the conditions laid down, the government representatives will inspect our preparations and only when they are satisfied with our preparations will they actually allow us to open the church for worship,” he underlined.

Rev Harrison Chinnakumar, chaplain of Holy Trinity Church in Oud Metha, Dubai, told Gulf News: “We have got the permission to open our compound, but we are preparing our compound and the congregations for the worship and prayers. We are doing deep cleaning as well as sanitising the compound.”

Parishioners raring to attend mass services in person

Art Los Banos, a parishioner at St Francis Church in Jebel Ali, Dubai, said: “We are definitely very happy to hear this good news (church reopening). My wife and I attended the early-morning mass at St Francis on March 15, not knowing that it would be our last mass there. The question now is how to accommodate all parishioners.”

Indian national Jennifer Mendonsa, a parishioner at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Dubai, added: “I am very pleased that churches will open again and I will be able to receive the sacrament after more than 100 days.”

Revd Canon Andy Thompson, MBE, Senior Chaplain at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi, said: “The last few months have challenged religious communities to find new ways of expressing their faith."

“For me, personally, I have really missed my church family. I have learned to value the importance of being able to worship together. I am looking forward to seeing them again. I am thankful for the decisive leadership of the UAE in ensuring our safety during this lockdown,” he underlined.