Next week’s visit to Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, "marks the culmination of a decades-long friendship between the ruling family and the Vatican," according to Canon Reverend Andrew Thompson, Vicar of St. Andrew’s Anglican church.
Reverend Thompson, author of the book ‘Christianity in the UAE’, talking exclusively to the Emirates News Agency, WAM, went on to note, "In 1972, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder father of the UAE, was made a papal knight in recognition of his hospitality to the Roman Catholic community in the UAE."
"Since then, the Roman Catholic church in the UAE has grown to be one of the largest communities in the world outside of a Catholic country. St Mary's church in Dubai alone," he noted, "has a membership list of well over 100,000 names."
Besides this and St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, Rev. Thompson added, there are other Catholic churches in Sharjah, Fujairah, Ra’s al-Khaimah, Musaffah and Jebel Ali. All these churches were built on land gifted to them by the ruling families of the UAE... The congregations reflect the international hospitality of the UAE, with masses taking place daily in multiple languages."
The visit by Pope Francis, Thompson said, "pays tribute to the faithful of these worshipping communities and to the tolerance of the UAE which was modelled from the birth of the federation in 1971. It has been a mutually beneficial relationship. Roman Catholics in the UAE are sustained in their commitment to serving the Emirati nation through the freedom to worship and pray in a tradition that reminds them of home... For these hard working people, the visit of the Pope will bring nothing but good will, encouragement and a thankfulness for the hospitality of the Emirates."
"The UAE's call to tolerance," Thompson concluded, "is a bracing push-back against global trends of intolerance. The rise of polarisation is alarming, and more than ever before, we need leadership that offers an alternative vision. This is what the Pope and the rulers of the UAE bring to our world today. I cannot think of a more iconic start to the UAE’s Year of Tolerance than witnessing in Abu Dhabi what will be the biggest act of Christian worship ever seen on this side of the Middle East. God bless the UAE".