Easter for 5,000 migrants in Abu Dhabi (photos)
by Bernardo Cervellera

One Easter Vigil lasted over two hours with some 5,000 people present. Another Vigil had been celebrated hours earlier. A South African man and three Filipino women received baptism and confirmation. The liturgical service was efficient, with dozens of ciboria and aspersoria. The Islamic call from a nearby mosque could be heard during the liturgy. Prayers were recited for our "brothers and sisters of Yemen". Archbishop Hinder called for sharing the dismay of women at the tomb and the strength of the angel's proclamation.

Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) - The joyful and uplifting sound of the Hallelujah from Händel's Messiah swept over the huge crowd as people moved towards the exits of the courtyard of St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, after participating in the Easter Vigil led by Mgr Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of southern Arabia. At least 5,000 people were present, spread over the large courtyard, as well inside the churches of Saint Joseph and Saint Theresa connected by closed-circuit TV.

In addition to the 2,500 plastic chairs placed around the stage-like presbytery, many of the faithful brought folding chairs, like those taken to concerts, in order to sit during the liturgy, which lasted well past midnight. 

Mgr Hinder had already celebrated another Easter Vigil at 6 pm attended by at least 3,000 people.

The few local churches that exist, granted by the government (two in Abu Dhabi), bring together Christians from all over the emirate. For this reason, Masses on Easter Sunday are performed in 13 different languages with hundreds taking part in each.

The Easter Vigil that began at 10 pm was the most solemn. Mgr Hinder baptised and confirmed some adults: Deon, a young atheist man from South Africa; Mercy and Edith, from the Philippines; Kimberly, also from the Philippines, received only confirmation.

Men and women from Kenya, Uganda, the Philippines, India, Korean, United Kingdom, Lebanon, and Syria follow one another in reading biblical passages and singing in English, which has become the lingua franca of the multi-ethnic community.

A liturgical service for such a large number of people was made possible by careful preparation by various groups of volunteers: readers, choir, altar decorators, technical service. Even the size and number of liturgical ornaments were impressive: dozens and dozens of ciboria, "stacked" to save space on the tabernacle, as well as dozens and dozens of oriental-style aspergilla.

When it was time for sprinkling the lustral water, priests and nuns present moved towards the points in the assembly equipped with aspersoria to bless the crowd waiting with raised hands for at least a drop of water. However, the area was large and the water ran out quickly. Hence, some volunteers in suits were ready to draw water from large basins of freshly blessed water, to enable priests and nuns to continue their work.

Another major aspect, linked to the large number of faithful, was the presence in the church courtyard of a refreshment service. Several Filipinos provided food (rice, meat, vegetables, etc.), drinks, and fruit, to sell to those who, living very far from the church, did not have the opportunity to eat at home. 

Because of the heat, a first aid service is also present at this time of the year when temperatures soar above 35 degrees - some adults and an altar girl became indisposed and were taken away in a wheelchair to cool off.

Next to the cathedral stands an elegant mosque that changed its name a few years ago. The ruling prince, to whom it was dedicated, decided that it should be named after "Mary mother of Jesus", as a sign of tolerance and friendship. 

Sometimes the schedules and announcements of the Islamic prayer - made over loudspeakers from the four minarets - drown out Christian prayers and songs. When this happens, the liturgy stops for a few minutes to resume after loudspeakers fall silent. During the Easter Vigil, this happened twice.

In his homily, Mgr Hinder mentioned again our "brothers and sisters of Yemen" who cannot celebrate any liturgy due to the lack of priests. He asked those present to pray for them and for the people of Yemen torn by war, misery and disease. A special prayer was also dedicated to the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, who guarantee freedom of worship, a rare gift in the region.

Following the Gospel, where it recounts the astonishment and fear women felt at the tomb and the angel's appearance, the bishop ended his homily by saying: “We too, every day, share the dismay of [those] women in the face of death, difficulties, powerlessness. But we also share the strength of the angel's announcement: Christ is risen. Hallelujah!"