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Papal visit to UAE: Establishing visibility and identity

For the papal mass on Tuesday in the Zayed Sports city stadium minimum hundred and fifty thousand people are expected and that will be the greatest display of visibility and identity of the Catholics of the region who almost remain as anonymous laborers in the daily life. To them Pope Francis will be doing a great service.

Papal visit to UAE: Establishing visibility and identity

By Joe Palathunkal
Pope Francis has landed in UAE on February 3, 2019, at a time when visibility and identity of individuals and groups are under threat the world over specifically in Asia and Africa. To understand its banality and fatality you must ask a Jew from Hitler’s Germany, and he will tell what it means from his own experience in the background of 6 million Jews perishing in the concentration camps.

During his three day stay in the United Arab Emirates and his public engagements Pope Francis not only establishes the visibility and identity of the 1.5 million Catholics in the Arabian peninsula, but he also confirms the same of nearly four hundred thousand other Christians living here as migrants from a number of countries around, mostly from India, Philippians and the African nations.



For the papal mass on Tuesday in the Zayed Sports city stadium minimum hundred and fifty thousand people are expected and that will be the greatest display of visibility and identity of the Catholics of the region who almost remain as anonymous laborers in the daily life. To them Pope Francis will be doing a great service.

Says Wilson Thomas who works there from the southern Indian state of Kerala: “UAE is like any Western nation, you are free to practice your faith, and eat what you want, no restrictions. Oh, the rush for the Holy Mass, I go much early to get a seat in the church.”

Pope’s visit and the official welcome will herald to the whole world loudly and clearly that in this land all the Christians can boldly show their visibility and identity and they are one with their Muslim brothers and sisters.



Such an atmosphere came about because of the radical thinking and visionary approach of the rulers of this prosperous Arab land and one can easily say that its prosperity itself is due to this atmosphere. You will be surprised to hear what the Minister of Tolerance Shaikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan said alluding to the Year of Tolerance: “The UAE celebrates tolerance every day of the year because tolerance distinguishes the DNA of our country.”

The mere fact that such a ministry of tolerance exists speaks volumes about the ethos and culture of this greatest Arab nation which cradles more than 40 churches built on the land donated by different rulers. The invitation accorded to Pope Francis by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan,Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in itself is a revolutionary endorsement of that ethos.



It is his revolutionary thinking that made it possible the renaming of Dubai’s grand mosque as Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque, though Mary or Maryam is mentioned in three Meccan chapters (19, 21, 23) and four Medinan chapters (3, 4, 5, 66) of the Quran; the 19th chapter even bears the title “Mary” or Surat Maryam. The surprise is that the Quran refers to Mary more often than the New Testament of the Bible.

The welcome to Pope Francis is a bold confirmation of the visibility and identity which the State accords and approves for the Catholics of UAE and it is indeed a gospel or good news for all the Christians of the gulf region which has the wounded memories of Christian persecution in Iraq, the murder of Mother Teresa Sisters in Yemen and the kidnapping of the Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil. For those Christians visibility and Christian identity is indeed a painful fact.



It is against this background that pope’s visit is going to be a historic event that upholds and establishes the Christian visibility and identity in the public space.

This visit is also going to be a family gathering for the Catholic families who would flock for the papal mass as family especially with their small kids, some of them will definitely get a loving embrace or kiss from the Holy Father.

Ahead of his visit the pope had sent a pertinent message: “Faith brings us together even in the face of differences. It also keeps us away from hostility and indifference.”



Apart from the enhancement of Christian visibility and identity, this visit will also enhance the visibility of Jesus in terms of his relation to Islamic faith whose name appears 25 times in the Quran as Jesus and 48 times as third person making him the most referred person in the Islamic scripture.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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