Super-Ultra-Mega-Church: World’s Largest Parish Has 300k Parishioners

St. Mary's on the right, a mosque on the left / jay tornaquia / Flickr

Dubai is already famous for being the home of a number of ridiculous spectacles: man-made islands, the world’s largest shopping mall, and the world’s tallest man-made structure.

Here’s another one it can add to the list: it’s home to the largest Catholic parish in the world, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which helps serve the city’s 300,000 Catholics.

An evening mass at St. Mary's in Dubai / Fr. Gaurav Shroff / Flickr
An evening mass at St. Mary’s in Dubai / Fr. Gaurav Shroff / Flickr

Now, I will note that while one source says that it serves 300,000 Catholics, the parish’s website claims that it serves only 80,000. It’s not exactly clear how either source is arriving at its number (number of Catholics in Dubai? number of Catholics who attend Mass every week, or month? number of Catholics officially registered?), or how current the parish’s website is. But either way, the point remains: the parish serves an absurdly large number of people.

And how many priests serve this mini-city within a parish? Only eight priests are listed on the parish’s website.

So why is the parish serving so many people? Shouldn’t there be more parishes in Dubai?

The current arrangement goes back at least to 1965, when the Islamic government allowed the Catholic Church to construct one church in the city to minister to its foreign national population (it’s illegal for Muslims to convert to Christianity).

The parish decorated for Christmas / Fr. Gaurav Shroff / Flickr
The parish decorated for Christmas / Fr. Gaurav Shroff / Flickr

Since then, the population of Dubai has grown sharply – from 280k in 1971 to 2 million in 2011 – and with it, its Catholic population. Yet the government has only allowed the Church to construct one more parish in the city.

So the church does as much as it possibly can within those restrictions.

Check out the parish’s mass schedule, and you’ll see that masses are offered in 10 different languages: English, Arabic, Tagalog, French, Konkani, Malayalam, Tamil, Singhalese, Urdu, and a Malankara Rite mass.

With only 9 priests and so many sacramental needs, lay people play a large role in the rest of the parish’s ministries, which include prayer groups, cultural and ethnic groups, and social justice outreach.

In many ways, with its big and widely diverse population and various ministries, St. Mary’s parish contains within itself a microcosm of the whole Catholic Church.

Kind of makes you view your own church a bit differently!

The parish's Marian grotto, with a mosque in the background / jay tornaquia / Flickr
The parish’s Marian grotto, with a mosque in the background / jay tornaquia / Flickr



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