Friday, August 31, 2007

Christian presence growing in the Gulf

An article by Sandro Magister on the guest-workers who are now 70% of the population of the UAE, a large number of which are Catholic Christians.
The Christians present in the United Arab Emirates represent about 35 percent of the population, for a total of more than a million faithful, a majority of them Catholic.

They are all immigrant workers, and many of them, because they live on the outskirts and don't have easy transportation access to the city, cannot regularly attend the official places of worship. This is the situation of the thousands of Indians who work on the construction sites in Dubai and are housed in the largest village-dormitory in Asia. According to unofficial estimates, this houses a population of about thirty thousand workers. Or there are the immigrants who work in the oil industry, who are cut off in isolated desert villages.

Another case is that of the Filipina housemaids who, because they don't have enough free time or enough money for transportation, remain bound to the places where they work. In consequence, small prayer groups - which are organized according to language and place of origin and meet in private settings like apartments, dormitories, and storage sheds - have become a very important and widespread form of religious expression for the Catholic communities. These are necessary moments of encounter, but they are also risky because of the rules imposed by the local authorities, who grant freedom of worship only in officially recognized places like the territory's parishes. In this context, the Charismatic groups from India or the Philippines take on an important role in spearheading initiatives in support of immigrants living in the most difficult conditions. These are often not limited to religious initiatives, but also include services of practical assistance, as in the case of the Legion of Mary mentioned above.


Ambrose said...

My eyes have really been opened to the Filipino diaspora since moving to china. I had no idea they worked as domestics in Hong Kong, and China. And then when I started to learn that they were going to the middle east I was flabbergasted. Talk about climates unfriendly to Christians!

I had a hit to my blog this weekend, out of Iran, for someone who had searched something along the terms of Filipino Domestic Helper. On whatever search engine it was (I forget), on that day, I was one of the top few hits. Go figure.

Gashwin said...

Go figure, eh. I recall when I was in Hong Kong in '05 on a Sunday: there's this one place not too far from the Anglican Cathedral where Filipina domestics congregate. There were dozens (if not hundreds) of them, sitting with their picnic lunches, socializing. One doesn't see them in India, of course -- India has its own indigenous supply of cheap labor for domestic help.