New church in Muslim-ruled UAE overflows with Christian believers

From left, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State; Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, UAE Minister of Youth, Culture and Community Development; and Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia ,assist in the ribbon cutting during the inauguration of St. Paul parish in Mussafah, Abu Dhabi, UAE, on June 11, 2015.(Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia)

A new church for the thousands of migrant Christians and local Arabs in Muslim-dominated United Arab Emirates has been inaugurated last week, highlighting the country's religious tolerance.

Located in Mussafah, a satellite town of Abu Dhabi, St. Paul parish overflowed with 5,000 Christian worshippers gathering for the Thanksgiving Mass, far more than its 1,200-capacity.

It is set to cater to the 60,000 to 70,000 Christians working and living in the surrounding area, many of whom are migrant workers from Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Some local Arabs have also joined in.

Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE's minister for culture, youth, and community development, said the opening of the church—the second in Dubai after St. Joseph's Cathedral in the center of the city—underlines the religious tolerance of religious leaders. He lauded Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the previous president and father of the current president, for his wisdom, courage, prudence, temperance, loyalty, justice, and generosity.

"Our leadership knows its true wealth and accepts the obligation to respect and understand the many religious beliefs of the people living in this country," he said. "I believe that each of you can provide evidence that the leaders of the UAE are fulfilling that obligation."

Christians form nine percent of UAE's population, while Muslims constitute 76 percent. There are also Hindu and Buddhist minorities.

"We thank the rulers for providing an attractive environment where Christians feel accepted and are able to live their own identity and to practice their religious beliefs," said Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, during the consecration of the new St. Paul parish.

"The mission of the Church is to do everything possible to foster the human capital of the Christian faithful and to make them strong in the pursuit of truth and moral behaviour and thus able to better serve the country," he said.

"The number of Christian faithful in the UAE is growing, and even though they come from many national and ethnic groups, languages, and cultures, yet they are brought together in unity by their Catholic faith," said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, who consecrated the parish.

"I think Christians who live in this country need opportunities to give witness of faith and to grow in their faith ... they may be strengthened in their efforts to grow in their faith, and be charitable to others."

The cardinal also pointed out that the lives of Christians are connected to the lives of those from other religions

"Our lives are closely linked to people of other religions and we seek to promote peaceful coexistence of peoples as we endeavour to become a global fraternity of nations with the common goal of building human society upon the noble principles of justice, peace, prosperity, and equality for all."

Bishop Hinder thanked the president of the UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the UAE government for their generosity and graciousness in granting the land and necessary permits, and for the stability, security, and peace enjoyed in the country.

Bishop Hinder noted, "Wealth is only a blessing when it is administered with a high sense of responsibility by well-qualified and dedicated leaders."

"The Catholic Church is not simply a praying community but forms its followers in respect for life, care for the environment, honesty and dedication," Bishop Hinder continued. "Working together in mutual respect, we can all contribute to the prosperity and peace of the country."