Dubai and my first Visita Iglesia

“Would you rather be stuck or be lost?” my highschool classmate Gwynne casually asked me as our small tour bus cruised along Sheik Zayed Road.

We were then headed towards St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi, the second church stop in our Visita Iglesia, a Lenten practice that’s kept alive in this part of the Middle East.

I initially thought that we will be visiting 7 churches, just like what the faithful devotees would observe back in the Philippines. Since the few Roman Catholic churches in the UAE are placed quite far apart, it is understandable that the tradition of church visits (or church hopping if you will) may sometimes cover a lesser number than the usual.  In our case that day, we visited only a total of four.

Church #1 – Mar Thoma Parish (Jebel Ali)

Our first stop earlier that morning was the Mar Thoma Parish in Jebel Ali where I caught up with Gwynne. The last time I saw her was during our graduation, which was more than a decade ago already. So aside from the fact that it was a Good Friday, it was also an overdue reunion for both of us.

Although I came from a predominantly Roman Catholic country, it was my first time to participate in this Holy Week tradition. This was why my highschool classmate would patiently remind which ‘Stations of the Cross’ were assigned in every church stop. I then turned to the right page in our booklet so that I can catch up with the group prayer and reflection.

Visita Iglesia Dubai - St. Joseph Cathedral
Church #2 – St. Joseph Cathedral (Abu Dhabi)

I noticed that the Catholic churches we visited that day were modern-looking and devoid of the intricate retablos compare to those in my country. Aside from Filipinos, there are also other nationalities that flock to each. Masses in these parts are scheduled according to languages. There’s one for English, Sinhala, Konkani, Tamil, Urdu and Tagalog.

That quarter-life-crisis-esque question was raised when Gwynne and I talked about how our happy lives went on after college, how we ended up with our present jobs and inevitably, who got married to whom in our batch. We also admired some of our friends who refused to be stuck, even in a lucrative career, and chose to pursue their passions instead – a baker turned pastry chef and one who became a professional photographer in LA.

Al Mubazzarah Park
Al Mubazzarah Park. Photo by G. Gallardo.

Our conversation was momentarily stopped when our group took a quick lunch at the Al Mubazzarah Park, an oddly lush public space in Al Ain.

Al Mubazzarah Park

Everyone in our group then brought out something to share to everyone else. On the mat, I saw itlog maalat, palabok, daing and Gwynne’s upscale tuna pasta and muffins that she baked herself. Had I known earlier, I would have brought freshly fried danggit or some Goldilocks polvoron to the party.

For Filipinos based in these parts, small yet intimate gatherings like these are very common as these help ease the nostalgia from time to time.

Before heading back to Dubai, we visited the St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Al Ain, our second to the last church. I must have been really tired that day because I dozed off on our way back. By the time I woke up I could already see the silhouette of the Burj Khalifa, flanking all the other skyscrapers on the horizon.

Visita Iglesia Dubai - St Marys Catholic Church
The Santo Entierro at church #3 – St. Mary’s Catholic Church (Al Ain)
Visita Iglesia Dubai - St. Mary's Church
Church #4 – St. Mary’s Church (Bur Dubai)

My sister then fetched us at St. Mary’s Church in Bur Dubai. Gwynne suggested that we have dinner at Betawi Cafe, a homey Indonesian restaurant in Karama. Mac, my sister’s husband, joined us even if he’s not really a big fan of spicy foods.

Later into the night, Gwynne’s question still lingered in my mind, just like the spicy sambal I had at Betawi. It’s indeed one of those questions that pierces through your soul, baring out your life’s purpose amidst the backdrop of the real world and all its pressures. It forces you to take a harder look at your career, your relationships and the many other choices you made in between.

Betawi Cafe
At Betawi Cafe. Photo by G. Gallardo.

I answered Gwynne that I’d prefer getting lost than getting stuck, if my memory still does not betray me. This decision would also be easier to make if I was still twenty-something.  I’d take the risk and leave my corporate job and then explore the rest of the world. I’d be a nomadic writer who answers to no one except perhaps to my magazine editor.

But I’m not twenty-something anymore. I now find the thought of wandering aimlessly in distant lands too romanticized. Maybe it’s not for me at all. These days, I strangely find comfort in the familiar – braving the morning traffic rush, chasing deadlines and hugging my fluffy pillows at the end of the day.

So if my highschool classmate is reading this now, I’d like her to know that I’m changing my answer. I think that we don’t need to be stuck or get lost at some point in our lives. Because in the greater scheme of things, I’d rather seek contentment with the choices that I made and even by those that I didn’t.

 

It has been four years since I experienced my first Visita Iglesia in Dubai. Maybe it’s time I’ll participate in one soon, re-evaluate myself, and ask even harder life questions along the way.

 

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