Father Michael Visits Dubai
(NB: Dubai@Random is always an elderly, befuddled-looking Western man.)
I offered to lead him to Wafi, since I was going there anyway, and he accepted.
‘My name is Michael. I’m a priest, and I came here to attend Mass,’ he said in a thick brogue.
I found this a bit strange, since I’d always heard that people with a brogue use the name ‘Mickey’ rather than ‘Michael,’ but I decided that priests must use the formal form of the name.
‘It’s amazing,’ he said, ‘I was told that Christianity is banned here, and is strictly underground, but, when I asked the taxi to take me to the Catholic Church, he dropped me right in front of it. I went to Mass, and the church was packed. In Ireland, which is supposed to be a Catholic country, all the churches are empty, mine not excepted. Also, I have been treated with the greatest hospitality here.’
I tried to explain that the UAE is a former British colony, so Catholic churches here are much like they were in Britain—behind walls so they could not be seen. Only, in England, this only applied to churches that were not Church of England, while here, even the Church of England is behind a wall, and no Christian signs can be seen from outside the wall. He agreed that, had the taxi not dropped him in front of St. Mary’s and told him, ‘This is Catholic Church,’ he might not have realised what it was.
As we walked, he apologised for slowing me down, though I was not at all uncomfortable walking at his pace.
I told him that, back in ’73, I read a Telegraph article trying to assuage the British guilt about eating 3,000 calories a day while Indians only had access to about 1,200 calories. The article said that, because of the British climate (and lack of any heating, central or otherwise), a Briton needed 3,000 calories a day for mere survival, while an Indian only needed 1,200. So I asked about heating in Ireland.
‘We’ve had central heating,’ he said, ‘since before I started secondary school.’
It turned out that Father Michael had started secondary school the same year I started primary school, so that ‘apostolic succession’ came unbidden to mind—i.e., the fact that he must have been ordained by one of the apostles.
‘What brought you to Dubai?’ I asked.
‘The Dubai World Cup,’ he answered, ‘and I’m glad to say I won.’
I was confused. The Dubai World Cup gives race-goers a card, and anyone who fills it in with all the winners of all the races wins a big prize, but that prize is seldom awarded. Those who come close get smaller prizes, but even the chances of those are remote.
‘I placed a bet at an OTB shop before I left Ireland,’ he explained.
‘Mabrook,’ I answered, and explained, ‘That means congratulations in Arabic.’ Of course, I have no idea what mabrook really means, but it sounded like a good response.
We finally arrived at Wafi. ‘None of the restaurants in this part are licensed,’ I explained, ‘but the section over there is fully licensed if you’d like a pint.’
‘I don’t want to keep you any longer,’ he said, so I took his hint, left him, concluded my business at Wafi, and returned home.