Christanity is not dead in the middle east. One place that is showing this is Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Pew Research Center numbers Christians in the Arabian Peninsula at 2.3 million—more Christians than nearly 100 countries can claim. The Gulf Christian Fellowship, an umbrella group, estimates 3.5 million. Foreigners now make up more than 70 percent of the more than 4 million inhabitants, coming from other Arab countries, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines. More than half of these foreign workers are Christians. Adding up the figures, Christians account for more than 35 percent of the population of the United Arab Emirates. Around a million of them are Catholic. And it’s not only in the UAE – in Saudi Arabia, too, it is estimated that there are already about a million Catholics from the Philippines.
One of the things proving that ministry is growing is the creation of a new church. 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.
Mubarak Al Nahyan says:
‘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. I believe that each of you can provide evidence that the leaders of the UAE are fulfilling that obligation.’
In the history of Christianity, both the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul had long intense missions in the middle east. The former founded the church of Antioch. St. Paul’s great mission to the gentiles began at Antioch, where the term “Christians” came to life to denote the followers of Christ. The name was first heard for the first time here. The apostle St. Thomas brought Christianity to Mesopotamia, now Iraq, and the three main Iraqi denominations—Chaldean, Assyrian, and Orthodox—still survive from that early period. The Chaldean and Assyrian churches use Syriac in their respective liturgies, a tongue close to Aramaic, which Jesus is said to have spoken.
In Iraq, Syria, and Egypt today, some of the oldest standing buildings are Christian churches, a testimony to the resilience and continuity of Christianity despite occasional periods of persecution. This can all be confusing with the mass exodus we see on the nightly news. The truth is that there are bright patches of hope.
Medical Missions is another of the Christian growth areas. It begins with team members’ introduction to community leaders and members, and move through pre-arranged logistics to community hospitals, clinics, and health posts. At these locations, team members provide a wide range of overseas medical care to meet local needs. Clinic days are long and arduous, but immeasurably productive and rewarding. They then minister to the entire family.
This is truly the bright light for the middle east.
Make sure to read:
- Vatican Okays Force in Middle East
- Pope Condemns Religious Persecution In Middle East: ‘This Gravely Offends God’
- Why The Middle East Matters To Us