Father Gandalf
The Pope will visit UAE's capital in February next year Image Credit: Anjana Kumar/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The St Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi has a message of peace to deliver to Pope Francis during his visit to the capital from February 3 to 5.

Pope Francis is set to visit the St. Joseph’s Cathedral on February 5 morning (Tuesday) before heading to Zayed Sports City according to the official itinerary released by The Vatican.

“We are very excited the Pope will make a visit to our church. The church committee has prepared a symbolic message which will be delivered to the Pope during his short, but one we know will be a very sweet, visit,” said Fr Gandolf Wild OFMCap. “The theme we have picked is ‘Make me a channel of your peace’.”

In an interview to Gulf News at the Cathedral on Friday, Fr. Gandolf revealed a logo developed by the church and which has been framed and is ready to be handed to the Pope to symbolise this message.

“The logo has a dove carrying an olive branch twig. The olive twig is a symbol of peace and so is the dove. The wings of the bird have been painted in the UAE flag colours symbolising the country and its inherent values of peace and tolerance. There is a wonderful cooperation between the Vatican, our church and the UAE government to ensure the Pope’s visit is a great success,” he said.

Fr. Gandolf said: “On February 5, after breakfast, the Pope will visit the cathedral. He will come here for a private prayer and greet some people who will be allowed to meet the Pope. From here will he will head straight to Zayed Sports City.”

Fr. Gandolf estimates there are around a million members belonging to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, which includes the Catholic Church in the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

In Oman there are four parishes and in the UAE there are eight parishes,” he said. For many expatriates in the capital, the church is a home [away] from home,” he said.

“It is heartening to see the UAE government welcoming the Pope and doing everything it can to make his stay happy. The timing could not be better as the country announced 2019 to be the Year of Tolerance. The world will appreciate how the UAE is home to different nationalities, creeds and religions and they will see how everyone lives here in harmony,” the 78-year-old priest hailing from Switzerland said.

The Christmas bazaar

The St Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi hosted its 31st annual Christmas bazaar on Friday. Over 35,000 people from all over the UAE attended the fair which is quite popular in the capital every year.

Elvis Estiveiro, 48, one of the organisers of the bazaar said this year 95 communities participated at the Christmas event. There were 98 stalls selling a variety of food, confectionary, juice, icecream to visitors. “Visitors also had a chance to buy raffle tickets. Each community set up its own stall. They brought their own equipment and banners for the occasion. We had representations from many countries, including South Korea, Singapore, South Africa among others. There is a true sense of community spirit,” said Estiveiro.

Fr. Gandolf said proceeds of all the collection from the event will go to various charitable institutions around the world. “It is usually a substantial amount every year and this year will be no different. Last year we collected close to a million dirhams. In the history of the bazaar we have twice collected monies of a little over a million dirhams. This year we are still counting.”

He said the church committee decides where the monies collected will go. “Financially distressed expats also have a chance to benefit from some donations. However, the church committee will review it case by case. Only genuine people will be given help,” said Fr Gandolf.

“Money will not be given to people who will take money from us and make more debts. There are many scamsters looking at cheating people all the time. Therefore we are very prudent in our selection process,” he said.

A message for Christmas? “Be happy and learn to forgive,” said the 78-year-old priest.