The UAE does not currently have a resident ambassador to the Holy See present in Rome.
Earlier this week, Peña Parra offered an inaugural Mass for the new nunciature in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, one of two Catholic churches in the Arabian city that has a population of 1.42 million.
“I dare say that the Catholic community of Abu Dhabi and the Arabian Peninsula as a whole is also an example of hope-filled patience and Christian living,” the archbishop said in his homily.
“You too may be a ‘little flock’ but each part of Christ’s Body the Church has a role to play. No one part is better or more important than the other,” he said.
More in Middle East - Africa
While few in number, parishes in the United Arab Emirates bring together Catholic traditions and devotions from across the Middle East, South Asia, and the rest of the universal Church.
In St. Joseph’s Cathedral, for example, Masses are celebrated in Arabic, English, French, Filipino, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Urdu, Tamil, Konkani, German, Italian, Korean, Polish, and Ukrainian for its 100,000 expatriate parishioners.
St. Joseph’s parish was the only Catholic church in Abu Dhabi for more than 50 years, until St. Paul’s Catholic Church opened in the city’s Musaffah district in 2015.
The official religion of the United Arab Emirates is Islam, with a Sunni Muslim majority. About 12.6% of the total population is Christian, according to the Pew Research Center.
The apostolic nunciature in Abu Dhabi opened on the third anniversary of the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” which Francis signed with Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 4, 2019.
Peña Parra said at the nunciature’s opening ceremony that he hoped that the human fraternity document would “serve as a framework for deepening our diplomatic relations.”
Vatican officials also traveled to the UAE last July to honor Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan with the “Man of Humanity” award from the Vatican Congregation for Education.
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Often also referred to as MBZ, the crown prince was among the central figures behind the Abu Dhabi event in which the pope signed the human fraternity document, according to Khaleej Times.
At the nunciature’s inauguration, Peña Parra said that the relationship between the Holy See and the UAE is based “on the mutual understanding of the importance of faith and the positive role that religion should play in society.”
“These efforts are truly needed today as we continue to see the negative consequences of replacing transcendent truths about the human person and creation with purely superficial and materialistic values,” he said.
“May this new embassy of the Holy See serve as a place of encounter and dialogue for our bilateral cooperation for many years to come.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.