With some 400,000 Catholics, the St, Mary's parish in Dubai, UAE, is probably the world's largest parish.
The church has space to seat at least 1,700 people – certainly more than most churches in the Western world. Yet despite this vast interior, the church is nevertheless sometimes too small for the assembled congregation, for there will often be as many as 2,000 people here – even on a weekday.
When there is no space left inside the church, Holy Mass is relayed via loudspeakers and projectors on giant screens in the open square in front of the church.
Incredibly, on major feast days, somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 Catholic faithful will throng this square, filling the parish grounds.
The land for the parish was granted to the parish in 1966 by the Emir, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. In addition to the church, the grounds also contain the presbytery, the convent for a congregation of religious sisters, a school and a small sports ground.
The present Church building dates from the year 1989 however, although a church was built an year after the land was handed over.
The parish priest, Capuchin Father Tomasito Veneracion, estimates that there are somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 Catholics living in the parish, much more than the Catholics in some of the northern Indian dioceses.
Father Tomasito, along with nine brother priests from various different countries, takes care of the parish.
Saint Mary's is one of seven parishes in the UAE and its congregation is overwhelmingly made up of Indian and Filipino immigrants. In fact 85% of the population of the emirate of Dubai are foreigners.
These migrant workers most often leave behind their families back in their home and in most cases it is just one of the parents who has emigrated.
The men are frequently employed on building sites, the women in the hospitals or as housemaids. There are around 400,000 Filipinos living in the UAE amid a total population of around 9 million.
"In this state of temporary emigration, the Church becomes a sort of second home. As a result, in the handful of parishes that we have here, the parish grounds become a kind of meeting place, both in a spiritual and a human sense", Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar for southern Arabia, explained in an interview with a representative of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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