Ras Al Khaimah, Jun 3: Friday June 14, 2013 will be a red letter day in the history of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Catholic community, because, on this day, their newly constructed Church will be consecrated. On the previous day, June 13, a brief official inauguration ceremony will be held in the presence of local dignitaries.
The Church is dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua and one could not have chosen a better time for consecration/inauguration, as it coincides with the patron Saint’s Feast on June 13.
The consecration of the Church will be solemnized by the Papal representative Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples, the Archbishop Petar Rajic, Apostolic Nuncio to the Arabian Peninsula and Bishop Paul Hinder Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, in the presence of dignitaries from Vatican, Provincials, Vice-Provincials, priests, religious and faithful from the RAK and neighboring parishes within the UAE and GCC countries.
Ras Al Khaimah is one of the seven Emirates of UAE Federation located in the north closer to the Strait of Hormuz, the entry point to the Gulf. The long time Catholic residents of RAK have sweet memories of how they kept their faith alive in the initial years of their living. Sky was the roof of the RAK church those days, as masses were held in an open air compound and at times, in private villas or homes, in the absence of permission from the authorities. The church services were occasional – fortnightly or monthly conducted by visiting priests from the neighbouring Dubai and Sharjah parishes. After many years of open air compound, villa or home masses, the venue shifted to a fixed place, shared by different Christian denominations.
It was in 1999 the Catholic community managed to build their first place of worship, a chapel on a rented plot of land, in the busy market area, Al Nakheel, but it took 6 more years to use this chapel as a place of worship, due to permission issues. It was on December 17, 2005 this chapel was consecrated by the current Bishop Paul Hinder and since then, the community has been having services at a fixed place, exclusively dedicated to the Catholic community. Notwithstanding the chapel being ready, church, services continued to be weekly or fortnightly, depending upon the availability of priests from Sharjah or Dubai. However this improved to daily from November 2006 onwards, after the appointment of a full- time parish priest.
The chapel which can accommodate approximately 500 faithful, currently spiritually nourishes over 5000 Catholics of diverse nationalities with regular services in English and occasional services in other ethnic languages like Malayalam, Tagalog, Tamil, Konkani, Arabic and Sinhalese. The place is increasingly becoming inadequate to provide comprehensive church services for the rapidly growing Catholic population estimated to be approx. 7000.
The local Government being fully aware of the growing needs and in line with their policy of locating all churches in one area, allotted plots of land in 2007 to different denominations (currently ten) in Al Jazeera and Al Hamra area to build larger/own places of worship.
Fr John Van Deerlin the first parish priest (2006-2007) did the initial ground work. Fr Mathew Fernandes, (2007-2009) who followed him, took the cause forward by having the foundation stone laid. The actual construction however started only in September 2011 by Fr Thomas Ampattukuzy ofm, Cap, the current parish priest since Aug 2009. With the strong support from the Vicariate Bishop, Paul Hinder and the parish community as well as other UAE churches, the new church is getting ready for inauguration.
The new church location is approximately 30 km south from current place and is well connected by road to the neighboring Emirates viz Umm Al Qwain, Ajman and Sharjah. It is a modern state-of-the-art construction which has a seating capacity of 1200 and can accommodate up to 1500 faithful. It also has a basement hall to accommodate other church activities. Two other buildings are constructed in the same compound for offices, accommodation of priests and support staff, besides provision for prayers, meetings and catechism classes.
The vicariate pastor Bishop Paul Hinder sensing the increasing spiritual needs of the community has very recently appointed Fr Maxim Pinto, ofm, Cap from Mangalore to assist the parish priest.
The parish priest, the assistant priest and the Catholic Community of RAK are all excited about this upcoming, rare and once-in-a-lifetime event in the history of the parish. All are working tirelessly to make the Consecration a memorable event.