Dubai: Christians across the UAE on Sunday celebrated Easter with full attendance in churches, with renewed hope for peace and good health.
This Sunday marked the first ever weekend holiday in the UAE that coincided with Easter, when worshippers mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ as per the Bible. Also encouraging a strong attendance was the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
Churches in Oud Metha and the religious compound in Jebel Ali in Dubai welcomed tens of thousands of churchgoers. In the past two years, churches were closed and living rooms had turned into altars where families gathered for services that were beamed straight into their homes due to the pandemic.
Worshippers of some congregations began Easter celebrations on Saturday while many others continued with special services on Sunday.
The religious compound in Jebeli Ali, which houses seven churches, saw elaborate arrangements to receive massive crowds.
Worshippers thanked the Community Development Authority (CDA) and Dubai Police for the arrangements made at the religious compound, which also houses the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara that also welcomed thousands of Sikhs celebrating Baisakhi.
“It was very good to see the church full for Easter after a very long time,” said Emily Sean, a British expat, who attended a morning mass.
“We are even happier because of the arrangements made for parking, and other arrangements made in the churches to avoid congestion and to ease the flow of traffic.”
She added: “Despite all churches being full, the arrangements were very well done. We are thankful to the authorities for all the arrangements and also for allowing all the people to come back to the church. The discipline among the people in terms of COVID protocol was also great.”
Worshippers were seen wearing masks and using sanitisers.
First holiday for Easter
Churchgoers also expressed their happiness over getting a weekend holiday on Easter after the UAE moved the weekend from Friday-Saturday to Saturday-Sunday from January 1.
Sunil Varghese, an Indian expat, who attended a morning mass, said it was for the first time in 15 years of his life in the UAE that he did not have to think about work on an Easter day.
“It is the first time that we are getting a weekend holiday for Easter. Since Sunday used to be a working day, it was not so easy for all to attend the mass during the day.”
“The whole worship experience is different when everybody is worshipping together with all your people in the full church. Many people, who had not met for a couple of years, also got a chance to meet at the church,” he added.
Special mass, night vigil
Fr. Lennie J.A. Connully, parish priest at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Dubai, said the church began Easter celebrations with a special mass for the sick and the elderly on Saturday evening and a night vigil on Saturday night.
“We welcomed the senior citizens, those who are sick and people with special needs for the 3pm mass as they cannot attend the night vigil which was from 8pm. We prayed for them and for everybody’s health. We have nine masses back to back for Easter today,” he said, adding that the church continued to livestream all the masses for those who could not attend in person.
While Sunday witnessed great crowds for the Easter services, there was less footfall for the Good Friday service this time due to the weekend change, said Fr Connully.
“The Holy Week is a very emotional thing for all Christians. Those could not attend the church on Good Friday will somehow try to attend the mass on Easter.”
He said the main message of Easter is peace as “fear not, peace be with you”, were the words of Jesus.
“We celebrate that and we enjoy peace here in this country in a very special way. We feel secure because there is peace here. On this occasion, we pray for the refugees who are suffering from the war. We pray that peace will prevail everywhere.”
Abu Dhabi and Sharjah
Churches in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah also witnessed large attendance of worshippers.
“For the past two years, we didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate Easter together. So, it has been a wonderful experience to celebrate the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ together today,” said Scott Halverson, second counsel at Abu Dhabi presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Abu Dhabi.
He said the congregation adjusted to the new schedule and appreciated that more worshippers could attend Easter services during the weekend holiday.
Rev. Sibi T.Mathews, vicar, Mar Thoma Parish in Sharjah, said though the number of the worshippers, who attended the church was higher, social distancing restriction was maintained.
“We followed the one-meter distance policy,” he said.
Easter Egg Run
The joyful day also saw families and friends eating out in restaurants and also celebrating at home parties. Children had special fun with traditional Easter Egg hunts.
A group of motorcycle riders also presented a special Easter Egg Run in Dubai. The riders and their friends gathered together and headed off in convoy to Al Jalila Children’s Hospital to present chocolate Easter Eggs and soft toys to the child patients. Organised by Dubai Vespa and Lambretta Club, the event saw participants handing over the candies and toys to the hospital staff at the main foyer to follow the COVID-19 safety measures.