Dubai: Christians across the UAE are observing the Holy Week for a second straight year without the traditional visit to churches and holding of religious gatherings with huge crowds. Services are mostly being held online and only a limited number of congregants are allowed inside churches.
But despite the challenges, their faith is not diminished and the message hope is not lost among them. All the more, they use the Holy Week to reflect and pray that the pandemic would soon be over.
Fr. Nilo Ramos- Resco, MSP, parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Ras Al Khaimah, told Gulf News: “Holy Week is a sacred time to Christians, leading up to Easter. But the pandemic has led to a different type of celebration as the world is seeking to contain the coronavirus. Even though our religious celebrations of Holy Week and Easter are restricted again this year, our faith is not diminished.”
A message of hope
Fr. Resco added: “We also hold on to message of hope. One year ago, on March 27, 2020, Pope Francis delivered an extraordinary blessing and reflects on Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Pope Francis urged the people “Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today — as we face the challenges of the pandemic.
“As we observe Holy Week this year, we pray for everyone especially those who are sick, people who are confined in hospitals, those who lost their jobs and are in financial difficulties,” he continued.
Filipino expat Rem Sagarino, a Dubai resident, said: “As a Christian, I am very grateful to the UAE government for its very sensible policies and support to practicing our faith. My family will be spending our Holy Week in prayers with Dubai Church community online, and on Easter, we will either go to the church in RAK or Sharjah. We are happy to attend online masses and other devotions not only in the UAE but also in the Philippines.”
Indian national Lizy Thomson and her family are also attending Holy Week services online. She said: “I am sad that for two years in a row, we haven’t been able to go to church to celebrate the Triduum (a period of three days that begins on Maundy Thursday and closes with evening prayer during Easter Vigil. This year it falls from April 1 to 4). But keeping the pandemic in mind, safety is key so we have accepted the situation and we will make the best out of it with the online services. We will be attending the online service of the UK Divine Retreat Centre and we will be attending the Way of the Cross and the Taize Prayer to prepare for Easter.”
Faith by COVID survivors
Caloy Serrano, a volunteer at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, and his wife have so much to be thankful for and to celebrate this Holy Week. Already in their senior years, they have survived COVID-19. “We are continuing our daily rosary that we’ve begun since last year, with the main petition to God to eradicate COVID from our planet. We also attend online retreats and mass services. Although churches here are now open on a limited capacity, we can’t go because of our age. Our fervent prayers are for God to protect our families, loved ones and friends from this dreaded virus,” Serrano said. “We also pray for guidance as to what to do and how to keep on earning in preparation for our retirement in the Philippines. We trust God to see us through this pandemic,” he added.
Faith from the heart
Dubai resident Bernard Aquino said what is important is to have faith from the heart. He said: “Holy Week is a huge part of our religion but there is still the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the UAE, however, we can visit some churches which is open and safe to visit. But even without a ceremony and not inside a church, prayers that come from our heart are our direct lines to God and we can say a prayer anytime, anywhere with our common goal — that this pandemic will end soon.”