‘Spiritual Oasis’ in the Desert: Southern Arabian Cathedral Marks 50 Years

Sheikh Shakhbut, ruler of Abu Dhabi, granted 11 acres of land on the Corniche, a beachside road in the city, to the Catholic Church as a sign of his patronage to the many Catholics who were committed to the development of the emirates.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, mother church of the Vicariate Apostolic of Southern Arabia, decorated for its 50th parish anniversary, March 19.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral, mother church of the Vicariate Apostolic of Southern Arabia, decorated for its 50th parish anniversary, March 19. (photo: CNA/courtesy of St. Joseph’s Cathedral Abu Dhabi)

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The Vicariate Apostolic of Southern Arabia, which serves the more than 2 million Catholics in the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen, last week celebrated the 50th anniversary of its cathedral parish.

On March 19, Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia, said a Mass of thanksgiving to mark the anniversary of the founding of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, located in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. St. Joseph’s is the oldest Catholic church in the emirates.

Bishop Hinder was joined by more than 30 priests and nuns and 5,000-plus lay faithful for the Mass.

“We are extremely happy in celebrating this golden jubilee, [for a church] that, over the years, grew from a small pastoral ministry to today serving a large Catholic community in UAE,” Father Anthony Swamy Savarimuthu, a priest at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, told CNA March 20.

Father Savarimuthu explained that the parish was blessed on Feb. 19, 1965, “thus fulfilling the providential hand of almighty God, through the generosity of the rulers of Abu Dhabi and the hard work of the Franciscan friars and some staunch Catholic immigrants.”

Fifty years ago, Sheikh Shakhbut, ruler of Abu Dhabi, granted 11 acres of land on the Corniche, a beachside road in the city, to the Catholic Church as a sign of his patronage to the many Catholics who were committed to the development of the emirates.

In 1981, his successor, Sheikh Zayed II, decided to move St. Joseph’s to a new location, and the present church building was inaugurated in 1983. Beginning in 2013, it underwent major renovations to provide for a new parish hall, as well as priests’ offices and a residence.

“On this occasion, it is fitting that we unfurl the history and remember the virtuous people who strived to ‘make a way in the desert,’” John E. John, communications director for the apostolic vicariate, told CNA March 19.

Bishop Hinder, in his homily, asked the faithful to imitate the virtue of St. Joseph, saying, “We are called today to be instruments of peace, and I hope we can all learn from St. Joseph.”

Bishop Hinder underlined the virtuous qualities of St Joseph, who is known for his “humility, chastity, obedience, prudence and love for his family.”

The bishop further said, “I believe that we are called to give Jesus a home in our hearts, in our families, in the community of this country and to be instruments of peace. … I hope we can continue to live among different Christian denominations and Islam, being the dominant religion, with mutual understanding and peace.”

Bishop Hinder in particular urged the faithful, “It’s an occasion for us to express our gratitude to God almighty, to Sheikh Shakhbut, Sheikh Zayed and now Sheikh Khalifa and to the people of the UAE, who have accepted that we can live here with this freedom of worship.”

Bishop Hinder also reiterated the commitment of the members of the Catholic Church in the country to the progress of the nation, and special prayers were invoked for Sheikh Khalifa and the country’s other rulers, who have shown religious tolerance and permit the construction of churches in the country.

Around 76% of the population of the United Arab Emirates is Muslim, while Christians constitute around 9% percent. There are also sizeable minorities of Hindus and Buddhists.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral parish serves some 100,000 expatriates from around the world, many of them Indians, who work and live in Abu Dhabi.

Bishop Hinder also prayed for peace in the conflicted areas of the Arabian Peninsula and expressed his confidence and hope that the region will remain an “island of peace.”

Christopher Alexander, a member of the parish, told CNA, “It is a blessed occasion to thank God for the blessing that the Catholic community can receive the sacraments.”

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