The Secretary of State for the Holy See, His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will travel to Dubai to say mass at Saint Mary's Church on Friday 18 March at 7:00 PM.
It is not yet clear why Cardinal Parolin will be visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Dubai for that matter, but it is interesting to speculate a few important reasons for Cardinal Parolin's presence in the capital city of the UAE's most populous Emirate.
First, the Holy See/Vatican City State have a pavilion at Expo2020 Dubai that is the ultimate display of diplomacy. It features a rendition of Michaengelo's "The Creation of Adam" from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, three iconic and historic manuscripts from the Vatican Library, a fresco of the important meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and Ottoman Sultan Malik Al-Kamil in 1219, videos portraying the natural beauty of the Vatican Gardens and the Vatican City State as a whole, an exhibit dedicated to the 2019 Abu Dhabi meeting of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhur, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, and their Declaration of Human Fraternity, as well as a corresponding 1,000 word Pope Francis encyclical translated in more than 100 languages, and other exhibits as well.
Cardinal Parolin's role as the Secretary of State for the Holy See is like other secretaries of state for other countries, which is to be head of the foreign relations and foreign policy for his country, the Holy See, but in addition, the Secretary of State for the Holy See has an extra de facto administrative function acting as the effective prime minister or number two for the Holy See and the Vatican City State (even though the Vatican City State nominally has a separate prime minister role)! Therefore, for Cardinal Parolin, being at Expo2020 would be vitally important for the soft power of the Holy See, and thus the Catholic Church if he decides to visit Expo2020 while in Dubai!
Furthermore, the UAE is home to around 1 million Catholics out of around 9.9 million people in total, accounting to around 11 percent of their population. Given Pope Francis's historic 2019 visit, the UAE and the Holy See have very good relations, so good that the Holy See just opened up a new Apostolic Nunciature (embassy building) on 4 February 2022 in the UAE's capital city, Abu Dhabi. To continue the growth and acceptance of the Catholic Church in the UAE and Muslim World, the importance of having Cardinal Parolin at Dubai's Expo is crucial because it presents the visibility of the Catholic Church at Dubai's marque event to the world. This will display to the world that Catholicism is strong in the Muslim world. The Dubai Expo2020, however, will come to an end soon on Thursday 31 March 2022. Thus, it makes sense why Cardinal Parolin would be traveling to Dubai this Friday if he was trying to visit the Expo.
A second important reason that Cardinal Parolin would be going to Dubai would be due to the rise in ethnic tensions and discrimination across the world, especially among Catholics in places like India and Myanmar. For UAE Catholics whom are mostly Indian and Filipino Catholic immigrants, this is especially close to home for this community. When looking at the Indian Catholics in the UAE for example, many of them are from Kerala, the place Saint Thomas the Apostle went to and evangelized, and thus these people are some of the oldest Christians and most of them are called Saint Thomas Christians. A lot of these Christians face widespread persecution today like their Apostle Saint Thomas did. The Catholics of the UAE are lucky in that the authorities do a very good job protecting them and allowing them to worship, but many of the businesses and every day people persecute these Catholic immigrants via harsh employment contracts used to exploit these immigrants' often poor background and yearn to succeed by working very long hours. Their pay is usually not good for what they put in. But, their situation is often worse in India, as their churches are being attacked by radical Hindu extremists with support from various government officials, and they are constantly discriminated against with very little opportunity. In contrast, the UAE authorities are often doing their best to make life easier for the Catholics there.
Therefore, it would make sense for Cardinal Parolin to speak to the UAE about this poor treatment of Catholics, and make sure there is a plan in place to make their lives better in the UAE within the private sphere. This is especially important following the increase in good relations between the Russians and Emiratis over the past 20 days and the expected push from Russia to quash any dissent anywhere that could help any resistance, whether in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, or elsewhere against their plans for Ukraine. A major resistance is thought to be the Catholic Church, and thus it is vitally important for Cardinal Parolin to make sure the UAE Officials will continue to treat their Catholics well. As for India, the UAE also has a special relationship there, and possibly, Cardinal Parolin could receive some much needed diplomatic help in settling some of the issues persisting in India for Catholics through the UAE.
However, the most compelling reason for Cardinal Parolin to be in the UAE, is for Cardinal Parolin to discuss the Russia-Ukraine situation with the UAE. This third reason is the most likely scenario due to UAE having very good relations with Russia and the UAE's refusal to condemn Russia or sanction Russia during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This means that the UAE possesses a window of diplomacy into Russia that most countries do not have at this point. But, the Holy See also possesses a special relationship with the UAE and could use the UAE as a conduit to get to Russia, whom the Holy See were growing closer to before Russia's invasion of Ukraine. United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has also visited the UAE this week for talks related to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.
The Holy See seeks to have peace around the world, especially when their own are being killed. As the war nears Western Ukraine more, the threat of destruction to the home city of the largest Eastern Catholic Church, Lviv, is becoming greater and thus it has become even more panic time for the Catholic Church as they wish to preserve the gains they have made within Ukraine and this region of the world, largely based on the successes of Lviv. The Russians have not been very good to the Catholic Church in their jurisdictions recently, and both the Russian Catholics and Ukrainian Catholics have strongly condemned this invasion, surely drawing the ire of President Putin. There are also Ruthenian Catholics and their Eastern Catholic Church located in Western Ukraine who are fiercely pro-Ukraine in this conflict and also pose a threat to President Putin's plans for Ukraine, in addition to a small minority of Latin Rite Roman Catholics who also pose a threat to Russian hegemony in the region.
But, the war does not have to go this route of persecuting Catholics which is something Cardinal Parolin knows all too well given his countless diplomatic service in many countries hostile to Catholicism. And this is the direction the Holy See will wish to explore with their friends in the UAE as they will hope to use their common humanity for the protection of Catholics in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, in exchange for greater cooperation between the three sovereign entities.
Lastly, if Cardinal Parolin wishes to use the UAE as a conduit to Russia for the safety of Catholics across Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, why did he choose Saint Mary's Church in Dubai and not Saint Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, the see of the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia (the UAE, Oman, and Yemen), in the capital of the UAE, where the Apostolic Nunciature is?
The reasons for this are strong, because Dubai has had a number of Ukrainian Catholics since their building boom, and especially since the Russian aggression in Ukraine since 2014, and Saint Mary's Church is the home Church for the Ukrainian Catholics! Since 2014, the Ukrainian Catholics have been focused on helping raise funds for their Ukrainians in need in Ukraine, as well as having arranged for wounded Ukrainian soldiers to be brought to Dubai for treatment. The Ukrainian Catholic community has flourished since Father George Yurchyk arrived in 2014. He came to Dubai as the ability of him to lead the Catholic faithful in Donetsk, a city taken over by the pro-Russian-aligned rebels as part of the Donetsk People's Republic in 2014, was greatly hindered and some Ukrainian Catholics who had moved to the UAE told him how they had no priest educated and blessed to say the Byzantine Rite and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Liturgy. Bishop Stephen Meniok, C.Ss.R., of the Ukrainian Catholic Archiepiscopal Exarchate of Donetsk had also fled Donetsk, and accepted Father George's move. They awaited approval from Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and he approved as well. Father George Yurchyk not only says the Byzantine Rite, but also the Latin Rite in the Polish Liturgy and Slovakia Liturgy, as these communities were also without a priest who could say mass in their languages.
The Ukrainian Catholics in Dubai have since created a Ukrainian school and Ukrainian social club, as well as having conducted numerous Ukrainian events like their Easter charity fair held at Saint Mary's. The Ukrainian Catholics in Dubai have their own facebook page and heraldry, and serve as possibly the best hope in bringing a peaceful resolution to the war via the UAE, due to their good standing with the government there. They have sought help from anyone they can. And, in nearby Sharjah, the Russian Othodox Church in the UAE is centered there, with many influential Russians spending time in and living in Dubai and commuting to mass in Sharjah. This area of the UAE really provides the best mediation efforts between the two groups because the UAE authorities have created a community of solidarity between many different Faiths and do not tolerate an environment of hatred. Furthermore, this Russian Orthodox parish is actually under the canonical territory of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, an autocephalous Church within the Eastern Orthodox Church, whose leader actually opposed the creation of an autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church for Ukraine back in 2019, but did not schism like the Patriarchate of Moscow, and has called for a peaceful end to the war in Ukraine. Likewise, the person who funded the construction of Saint Philip Russian Orthodox Church is a very wealthy Soviet-born Ukrainian who has served in Soviet and Ukrainian governmental roles, in addition to being awarded the Order of the Holy Equally apostolic Grand Prince Vladimir of the Russian Orthodox Church, their highest award. His name is Yuri Sidorenko and he is from Kramatorsk, a part of the Donetsk Oblast that has been home to the Ukrainian authorities. Thus, as you can tell, this Russian Orthodox Church provides the perfect place for a middle ground, a church funded by a Soviet-Ukrainian Russian Orthodox philanthropist under the Patriarch of Antioch who wants peace, but also wants the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be under the Russian Orthodox Church.
But it gets even better for Holy See diplomacy, because this same Patriarch of Antioch, John X of Antioch, in partnership with other Christian leaders in Syria such as the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Patriarch at the time, called out the USA, UK, and France for a missile strike in Syria and against their aggression during the Syrian Civil War, and for unity behind Syria, an ally of Russia, in 2018. Likewise, Yuri Sidorenko has been alleged by the USA for fraud and bribery and has connections to ousted Ukrainian, pro-Russian aligned President, Viktor Yanukovych. These two are definitely seen as good people for Cardinal Parolin to approach on behalf of the Holy See to try and lessen the Russian aggression on Ukraine, and to remind them the Catholic Church, via the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, has also stood with them. These two can be useful in peace negotiations because Patriarch John X is still under the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, who is vehemently against the invasion of Ukraine and has called for peace. Thus, both Patriarch John X and Yuri Sidorenko provide the balance between Russian and Ukrainian interests needed to create a more open dialogue between the Holy See and Russia, while the UAE provides the environment that calls for more peaceful solidarity between all groups involved. This allows the Ukrainian Greek Catholics and Russian Orthodox to use their influence to possibly create an acceptable peace deal, via Cardinal Parolin's much needed visit to Dubai.
Furthermore, it is also quite fitting that Cardinal Parolin will be spending his Friday night at Saint Mary's considering that the Vatican has just announced that Pope Francis will Consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the following Friday, 25 March.