This week’s historic visit to the United Arab Emirates by Pope Francis resulted in “extraordinary scenes”, the Senior Anglican Chaplain in Abu Dhabi, Canon Andrew Thompson, has said. During his visit, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. News reports cite a variety of numbers of those attending, varying from 130,000 to 180,000. Canon Thompson was one of those present. He told the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) that Anglicans and Roman Catholics have, for decades, “literally been neighbours” in the UAE “In every one of the emirates of the UAE, the Anglican churches lie literally in the shadow of the gigantic compounds which are the spiritual homes to thousands of Roman Catholics”, he said.
The UAE, which has designated 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance”, has the largest Catholic population amongst Arab nations. According to the Reuters news service, most UAE citizens are Sunni Muslims; but the large migrant population – foreigners are said to outnumber locals by around nine to one – means that the country is home to some two million Catholics – around half the total number of Catholics living in Gulf countries.
“Relationships are close between Catholic and Anglican ministers, not least because we all share the same status as guest migrants in a nation which proudly defines her status as Islamic”, Canon Thompson said. “This sounds as if we are bound together through the challenges of facing a hostile bureaucracy. The truth is actually the opposite.
“We both enjoy complete freedom of worship and the grace and favour of the ruling families. While there are certainly bureaucratic frustrations, a constant flow of pastoral needs, and legal conundrums, these issues are not unique to the UAE.
“We celebrate our friendship together by mutually hosting ecumenical gatherings, and are constantly cheered by the genuine welcome of the Emirati authorities.”
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