St Mary’s Catholic Church, Dubai.

I went to Mass on Saturday at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Dubai, where the congregation numbered in excess of 1500 people. They were still pouring in as the priest began his sermon. It was remarkable for someone like me who has never known non-European Catholicism.

However, what was truly inspirational was the area outside the church, where a shrine containing a statue of Our Lady was cut into the rock to create a ‘grotto’ feel. Almost directly behind her, the minarets from the nearby mosque soared above the statue. At the beginning of Mass, the priest’s voice was virtually drowned out by the call to prayer next door. Nobody batted an eyelid.

Not for the first time, I’m happy to be accused of being naive. The thousands attending Mass may not have the purest of hearts nor the most forgiving souls. There may be other reasons for this mass worship (bad play on words).

Yet surely it is better to have active displays of peaceful communal belief, than individualised indolence. And it has to be better that worshippers live their faith in the open as next door neighbours, the beauty of their religious traditions exposed for all to enjoy.

The religious pluralism in Dubai is refreshing, home to over 200 nationalities and 40 churches, a Sikh temple, and two Hindu temples.  35 Christian churches have been built on land donated by the country’s rulers. Imagine this in Europe now – there’d be cries of ‘what about us?’ and ‘who are you to give our land over to immigrants?’ in addition to the boring ‘take back control’ choruses.

More about religious tolerance in another part of the world, Sierra Leone – a similar success story – here


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