Catholic church in UAE to host fatherhood celebration for migrant workers

By Perry West

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A Catholic church in Dubai is hosting a celebration to honor the United Arab Emirates’ migrant workers – many of whom are fathers separated from their homes to provide for their families.   

It is a “day to honor some…fathers who are working here, separated from their families back home,” said Father Lennie Connully, OFM Cap., pastor of St Mary’s Catholic Church.

“They are here struggling for their families. We want to honor them, 500 of them,” he told EWTN News.

More than 500 men are expected to attend the July 20 event taking place at a labor camp for Khansaheb Investments in Dubai, more than 80 miles northeast of Abu Dhabi.

Organized by Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, the workers will enjoy games, dinner, dance, and gift baskets. The men will be given a combination of food and necessities, including items such as coffee, tea, sugar, detergents, razors, and phone cards. Father Connully said the calling cards will help connect the fathers and their families.

The fathers are “making a big sacrifice in being away from their families just to provide for them. So that is the reason why we thought of them,” he said. “It’s not on a very big scale, but it is something we can give at this moment.”

This is the third annual event that St Mary’s parish will host to provide aid and comfort to the people within the UAE. In 2017, the church celebrated the women who provide cleaning services.

This year, the event coincides with celebrations of the life of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding president of the UAE.

“There can be no better way to commemorate the Year of Zayed – founding father of the UAE – than by honouring lonely fathers on the occasion of International Father’s Day. Shaikh Zayed is a true symbol of humanitarianism. To honour his vision and memory, St. Mary’s Catholic Church has decided to bring fun and entertainment into the lives of more than 500 deserving workers from selected labour accommodations in Dubai,” Fr. Connully said, according to Gulf News.

Dubai has a large migrant-to-citizen ratio, with immigrants making up more than 80 percent of the population and 90 percent of the work force.

Father Connully told EWTN News that the labor camps, though imperfect, offer these men a chance to be employed.

“A labor accommodation is provided by the company which employs them,” he said. “We cannot say it is ideal, but then the company, of course, is by all means looking for profit with using as little as possible.”

In 2016, numerous reports came out about these labor camp’s low wages, undocumented workers, and poor living conditions. According to Khaleej Times, there are months when workers were not paid and visas where confiscated.

However, Father Connully said the conditions are comparatively good to situations these workers face in their home countries, and the wages are still an opportunity the men may not have otherwise.

“It is comparatively good because they all have single rooms and all that…they have air conditioning and other good[s] compared to” their home countries, he said. “They are able to spare something, send something back home.”

The Asian Migrant Centre found that the largest source of migrant workers in the UAE originate from India. There are also large numbers of guest workers who are Catholic from Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

There are also sizable minorities of Hindus and Buddhists among the guest workers.

The Father's Day event will serve men of “any religion,” Fr. Connully said. “We have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, all sorts of people from all over the world.”

Because God is the provider, Father Connully said fatherhood plays an important role in the faith and is an honored position.

“In the Christian faith, [fatherhood is] a very, very important role…because we look to God as our Father. He is the provider of all mankind and the Father of the family. In the Christian family, the father has a big role to play and the father has an honored position in every family, especially in the East.”

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