Worshippers at St Francis Church in Jebel Ali, Dubai. Image Credit: Rachel Salinel/Gulf News Reader

Dubai: After missing church celebrations last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, worshippers marked a thankful Christmas this time round, with prayers for good health and cheer.

Fr. Lennie JA Connully, parish priest at St. Mary’s Church in Dubai, said the church is thankful to Dubai government for allowing Christmas celebrations this time.

Fr. Lennie JA Connully

“We are thankful to Dubai government. CDA (Community Development Authority) gave us permission to hold Christmas mass. So, people were able to come to the church,” he said, adding that worshippers kept social distancing and followed due COVID protocols.

“(The Christmas mass service) is spread out on two days. Every two hours we have a service. It will go on till 9.30pm tonight. So, the crowd is staggered.”

Worshippers said they paryed for good health and cheer.

One worshipper said Christmas was a period of hope. “We have only one prayer - the end of the pandemic and good health and spirits for everyone,”

A couple with their two kids who visited St Mary's Church pose for a quick picture. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Prayers were also held for the UAE’s leaders and people, said Brenda Hutchings, who attended a mass last night.

She said it felt great to be back in the church after almost two years.

“I always like to hear the bells. It makes me feel Christmassy.”

Residents were grateful that they could actually visit the church this Christmas. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Those attending the mass wore a mask and tried to maintain social distance as much as possible, she said.

“There was no one without a mask…not even the children. We preferred to stay behind and left soon after receiving the Holy communion. It felt so nice,” she added.

Age restrictions

In Sharjah, people above 60 and children below 12 were not allowed to attend the masses, said Fr. Abin Baby Oomelil, vicar of St. Mary’s Jacobite Syrian Soonoro Patriarchal Cathedral in Sharjah.

“We followed the COVID-19 protocol strictly. Temperature checks were done and the use of masks and sanitisers was compulsory,” he added.

Sharjah Church
In Sharjah, people above 60 and children below 12 were not allowed to attend the masses. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

He said the church held the Christmas services from 6pm to 10pm and the church also arranged takeaway dinner and cake for all those who attended the special mass. “We had all the traditional rituals and the main Christmas mass. Around 600 people took part in person. Other worshippers attended online as we had livestreamed everything.”

Filipino expat Bernard Aquino was among the UAE residents who preferred to attend the mass online even this time. “Like everyone else, I wish for this pandemic to end, for the COVID-19 in any variant forms to go away and never come back. But of course, equal rights to vaccines might make that wish come true, so I wish for that one too,” he said.

Bernard Aquino

“As much as I wanted to go home and spend Christmas with my family, whom I haven’t seen for two years now, the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant has added another layer of anxiety to my travel plans. Thus I haven’t been able to go home again this year and have to be content with videos and photos in our family’s group chat.”

He said he would try to compensate for the Christmas fun back home by visiting the Expo 2020 Dubai. “I will eat with friends and go to Expo as they have prepared a lot of stuff to enjoy this festive season.”