Dubai: This Friday and Sunday would have been two of the busiest days across churches in the UAE if not for the coronavirus pandemic. Church pews are empty, altar candles are not lit and various houses of prayers are almost deserted.
But despite the closure of all the churches as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, Christians across the country will still observe Good Friday and celebrate Easter Sunday from the comfort of their homes.
“The situation, which naturally brings a sense of grief, has actually made us more spiritual,” one Christian resident told Gulf News. “We’ve become more pensive as we observe the Holy Week and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus – which is a day of rebirth, renewal and redemption.”
Dubai residents and Indian couple Joe and Diana Fernandes said: “This is the first Holy Week that we will not be able to celebrate at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. But we completely understand the situation and appreciate the efforts of the government for our safety. Though parishioners are physically apart, we are united spiritually in faith and we collectively pray for this pandemic to come to an end.”
Susan Jose, 38, another parishioner at St. Mary’s, added: “Being born and raised in Dubai, this Holy Week is more meaningful as we reflect on the graces that we had taken for granted. This year will be far more spiritual as our time will be spent in prayer and will also reach out to the underprivileged as soon as we have the government’s permission.”
Aside from attending daily mass streamed live from Manila and the Vatican, Filipino community leaders, Art and Elle Los Banos, said they are going to have a Zoom (online) meeting reflecting on the Seven Last Words on Good Friday with other members of the Catholic community in Maputo, Mozambique.
“Easter Sunday is a very special day as it is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we will continue to pray intensely for the end of the pandemic. We are looking forward to be given a second life as all of us across the globe are hoping for, regardless of race and religion,” they added.
Families pray together
Jordanian expat Rimona Nazi and her husband, Khaldoon Hemsi, and their kids, Joulina and Joseph, will also be praying piously from their home. And Easter Sunday will be a joyful family affair as they will colour and design eggs for the traditional Easter egg hunt.
Members of Rem Sagarino’s family are also one in prayers. He said: “My family will gather around the living room to watch the Mass and pray rosary. My wife will also prepare traditional meals such as binignit, puto, biko and gulaman and other no-meat dishes. We are continuously communicating with our friends and we pray together for UAE’s success against coronavirus.”
Paul George Poovatheril, parishioner at St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral in Oud Metha, added: “The services this year will be streamed live for the faithful to participate from their homes. We will use this opportunity as a family to come together in our homes and pray together for the whole world, especially the UAE where the leaders and officials have been exceptional in managing the situation and taking all precautions for our safety and well-being.”
“We need to especially pray for the people on the front line serving and helping people who are sick. Easter brings hope and belief in the common good for humanity and God’s great love and providence for us,” he added.
Meditate and celebrate
Rev. Harrison Chinnakumar, chaplain of Holy Trinity Church in Dubai, told Gulf News: “This Holy Week we meditate more on Jesus’ suffering, pain, sorrow and crucifixion. Though it appears gloomy, the entire story gives great hope.”
The coronavirus has affected everyone and this has caused severe pain to all… (but) the message of the Holy Week is that God is not away from us, particularly at this difficult time. He already had gone through pain and sorrow, but came out victorious. This Holy Week assures us that God, who had gone through pain, will bring us out of our difficult situation. With this message of assurance we are marching forward,” he added.
“We follow the texts of our liturgies: although we suffer with Christ, we will also raise with him to newness of life,” added Fr. Reinhold Sahner, parish priest of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Jebel Ali.
Fr Ninan Philip Panackamattam, vicar of St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral in Oud Metha, for his part, said: “Although it is truly disheartening to see a deserted church, the brimming eyes and hearts of every parish member helps us partake as one in the passion of Jesus Christ this year.
“I believe that with our incessant prayers and unflinching faith, we will surely be able to witness the resurrection of Christ in our lives and offer up our gratitude to the Almighty. I invoke all to pray fervently for God’s grace to bless us and alleviate the suffering of humanity,” he added.
Another church leader, Fr. Lennie J A Connully, parish priest at St Mary’s Catholic Church Dubai, meanwhile, posted a challenge. He told parishioners on Maundy Thursday: “Please eat dinner together with all the members of your family or all those who share the same accommodation. Please create a prayerful atmosphere before the meal. Let this dinner be your Paschal meal with Jesus.”
Revd Canon Andy Thompson, MBE, Senior Chaplain at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi, summarised: “Holy Week, which is when Christians remember the last days of the life of Jesus on earth, is an emotional rollercoaster. We walk through the narrative of Jesus’ suffering and when everything seems utterly hopeless there comes a joyful celebration of resurrection – a new life and new hope.”
“We are at the stage in the Easter story now where we are wondering if things can get any worse. As one famous preacher reminded his audience - ‘’this is Friday - but Sunday’s acoming!’’
“Until then, the Christian community remains faithful in prayer - praying for our rulers, praying for wisdom for the medical profession and praying for the sick. this is Friday - but Sunday’s acoming!” he concluded.