BY Peter Diamond | February 15 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Scots witness to historic first for the Church in Arab Peninsula

Catholic Scots in the UAE have shared their stories of experiencing the first ever Mass celebrated by a pope on the Arab peninsula.

Three expats spoke to the SCO this week after the historic three-day papal visit to promote inter-religious unity, tolerance and respect.

Pope Francis’ presence in the United Arab Emirates, where 76 per cent of the nine million population are Muslims, is highly significant and saw him embrace with the Grand Imam of Islam.

The pair signed a peace document together on ‘Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.’

At the papal Mass attended by up to 140,000 people, the Pope spoke directly to the expatriate community in his homily, which touched a young Scottish Catholic woman in the crowd.

Rosie McFadden 27, who left Glasgow in 2015 after studying law at Glasgow University, said the Pope told the largely-expatriate crowd that it must not be easy to be living far from home, missing the affection of loved ones, and feeling uncertainty about the future but that ‘the Lord is faithful and does not abandon His people.’

“That part of his homily really resonated and touched me, and many others there I’m sure because 90 per cent of the UAE is expatriate. That one line from the Pope gave people so much comfort,” Ms McFadden said.

“There are times when you are homesick, or you can see your friends or colleagues are homesick, but having a strong Faith can really help and give a person support through that.”


‘God loves a trier, doesn’t he?’

Ms McFadden’s journey to the papal Mass from Dubai to Abu Dhabi was exhausting and kept her awake for more than 32 hours but she said it was worthwhile.

However, when she arrived at the Zayed Sport City Stadium she found she had been allocated a ticket outside the arena, leaving her with no option but to chance her Scottish charm on the staff for an upgrade.

Ms McFadden said: “I was a bit despondent because I had gone all that way on my own and would have to watch it on a big screen.

“In true Scottish style I managed to persuade one of the security that I had came so far and they ended up swapping my ticket for one in the stadium. I completely blagged it: God loves a trier, doesn’t He?”

She added: “The noise when Pope Francis arrived was nothing like I had ever heard before. It was just quite surreal and then to see members of the Emirati Royal Family singing along to hymns, it was amazing.”

Ms McFadden, who works for a PR Agency as an account executive, believes the display of respect to Catholicism by the UAE will help to change ‘common misconceptions’ about the country.

“The main daily newspaper carried a big photograph on the front page of the Pope and the Grand Imam hugging each other. It’s a very positive image of religious unity and respect,” she said.

“I think it’s a fairly common misconception that religion is solely Muslim in the UAE. “I personally have never found any hostility here, only people who really respect religion and are interested in it.

“One of my friends asked me if I was worried if terrorists would target the Mass but I was never concerned, I felt very safe.”


Holy ground

Marie Clare Curley, from Glasgow, has been in the UAE for 20 years. She said the papal Mass felt as though she was on ‘holy ground.’

Ms Curley, 61, said: “We were very blessed to be there to witness such an occasion. 150,000 people in the Arab world celebrating Mass with the Pope. We were on Holy ground.

“One of the most touching things I heard though was actually from the security guards inside the stadium whom we thanked on our way out for keeping us and the Pope safe.

“They responded by saying it was a great honour to guard a holy man, which is really a testament to how tolerant the country is and how it shows love to people.”

Ms Curley said she has become more Christian since moving to the UAE.

“I go to church every week but I read the scriptures every day and I attend bible classes which helps deepen my Faith,” she said.

“We pray for [Pope Francis] every day because right now the devil is trying to divide the Church.”


Reporter’s view

Joe Jenkins, a former reporter at the SCO’s sister title the Catholic Herald, was also at the Pope’s Mass in Abu Dhabi.

Mr Jenkins, who was raised in Glasgow and London, is now assistant editor in chief at The National newspaper in the UAE and was overseeing the newspaper’s coverage at the Mass.

He said: “The visit of a religious leader like Pope Francis to an Arab Gulf State has immense significance.

“Essentially the UAE government, who like to have a theme for the year, are billing this as ‘the year of tolerance,’ in order to show the world that religious freedom exists for all faiths in this country.”

Mr Jenkins said that the atmosphere within the stadium was very different to the one he experienced the previous week.

“The Mass was an extraordinary occasion which was spectacular,” he said.

“It’s not every day you see a cross that size erected anywhere in Abu Dhabi, let alone a sports stadium.

“There are over one million Catholics in the UAE and 140,000 were inside and outside the stadium celebrating Mass.

“There was a lot of emotion from the people in the crowd. I had been at the Asian Football Cup final four days earlier and I can assure you it was a very different atmosphere.

“It was like being inside a cathedral at points—you couldn’t hear a pin drop. There was a very strong number of Filipino and Indian Catholics.

“There are a lot of hungry Catholics here who had a real desire to see the Pope when they are so far away from home, to witness and be part of something which unites them with their loved ones.”


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