Top UAE mogul to lead musicians at papal mass

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Paul Griffiths started playing the organ at 10 years old. (Supplied)
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Griffiths uses his vacation leaves to play the organ. (Supplied)
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Girffiths will accompany the choir on Feb. 5, along with a 10-member brass ensemble. (Supplied)
Updated 01 February 2019

Top UAE mogul to lead musicians at papal mass

  • CEO of Dubai Airports Paul Griffiths is the lead organist at the papal mass on Feb. 5
  • When things go crazy at the airports, Griffiths said he turns to music to relax

DUBAI: Better known for his role as the CEO of Dubai Airports, Paul Griffiths, will be playing the organ at the mass lead by Pope Francis on Tuesday, Feb. 5, before a congregation of 135,000 people at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium.
It will be the first time a Catholic Pope has visited the UAE and the wider Gulf and a first for the 61-year-old British expat.
“It’s my first time performing in a Catholic mass with such large resources, and such a huge choir,” Griffiths, who is an Anglican, told Arab News.
“It will be a most historic occasion for the UAE. It’s just the most fantastic opportunity to demonstrate peace and tolerance, and I think, in the world, we need a lot of that,” he said.
Asked if he would be able to meet the pope, he replied: “I’m not sure that that is actually possible, but if it did actually happen, it would be an astonishing opportunity.”
“But just the honor of playing the organ at a mass, which he is celebrating, that’s quite an astonishing situation.”
Griffiths joined Dubai Airports as CEO in October 2007 – a year later he led the launch of Terminal 3 – the world’s largest – at Dubai International Airport.
On June 27, 2010 he was at the forefront of the opening of the emirate’s second international airport – Dubai World Central.
But Griffiths is not just a veteran of the airport business, he started learning to play the organ when he was a child.
“I was 10 when my friend asked to me to join the church choir. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in music, but he persuaded me,” he said.
The moment he saw the church organ, he said he had a “real moment” of self-discovery.
“For about the next 10 years after I started, all I wanted to do was be a cathedral organist,” he added.
But Griffiths said his father was less enthusiastic about him pursuing music as a profession.
“He persuaded me that music was a good hobby, but a very bad profession,” he said, adding that instead he chose a career path that led him to the top of the aviation industry.
“Although I didn’t agree with my father at the time, in hindsight, it was the right decision.”
But he did not give up on music, and now Griffiths manages a schedule of concert and recital engagements, including performances that have placed him alongside major orchestras.
“I am a great believer that life is about living to the full. I try very hard to give all my time and effort to running all the airports, and in my spare time, the little that I have, I do a lot of organ practice and preparations,” he said.
Griffiths is so committed to his music that he said he uses much of his annual leave for his favorite pass-time.
“I’ve got lots of things coming up. I’m playing in the UK in May, and I’m doing two concerts in the US in June,” he revealed.
When things go crazy at the airports, Griffiths said he turns to music to relax.
“I can have a really tough and long day getting everything together, but when I come home, I sit at the organ and practice quite tough music, and within a couple of pages, all the troubles of the day are gone,” he said.
Griffiths is even married to a musician, Joana Marsh, who works full time as a classical composer, working with orchestras and choirs around the world. The passion for music runs in the family, as his son is also a musician, playing the French horn.
The pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi coincides with the Human Fraternity Conference – an interfaith event that will bring together religious leaders under one roof – it is also the UAE’s Year of tolerance.
Although Christian, Griffiths is not a Catholic – he is a member of the Anglican church – that blending of faiths on the same stage, he said, was “an important statement for mankind.”
“It doesn’t matter what faith or religion we are, the fact that we can come together to celebrate such a historic thing and all be together in the same place… it will remind us that despite our differences, we are all flesh and blood,” he added.


Lebanese donor hands Nazi artifacts to Israel, warns of anti-Semitism

Updated 52 min 47 sec ago

Lebanese donor hands Nazi artifacts to Israel, warns of anti-Semitism

  • Abdallah Chatila spent about 600,000 euros ($660,000) for eight objects connected to Hitler
  • He said he had felt compelled to take the objects off the market

JERUSALEM: wealthy Lebanese-Swiss businessman said Sunday he had bought Adolf Hitler’s top hat and other Nazi artifacts to give them to Jewish groups and prevent them falling into the hands of a resurgent far-right.
Abdallah Chatila said he had felt compelled to take the objects off the market because of the rising anti-Semitism, populism and racism he was witnessing in Europe.
He spent about 600,000 euros ($660,000) for eight objects connected to Hitler, including the collapsible top hat, in a November 20 sale at a Munich auction house, originally planning to burn them all.
But he then decided to give them to the Keren Hayesod association, an Israeli fundraising group, which has resolved to hand them to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.
Chatila told a Jerusalem press conference it had been a “very easy” decision to purchase the items when he saw the “potentially lethal injustice that those artifacts would go to the wrong hands.”
“I felt I had no choice but to actually try to help the cause,” he added.
“What happened in the last five years in Europe showed us that anti-Semitism, that populism, that racism is going stronger and stronger, and we are here to fight it and show people we’re not scared.
“Today — with the fake news, with the media, with the power that people could have with the Internet, with social media — somebody else could use that small window” of time to manipulate the public, he said.
He said he had worried the Nazi-era artifacts could be used by neo-Nazi groups or those seeking to stoke anti-Semitism and racism in Europe.
“That’s why I felt I had to do it,” he said of his purchase.
The items, still in Munich, are to be eventually delivered to Yad Vashem, where they will be part of a collection of Nazi artifacts crucial to countering Holocaust denial, but not be put on regular display, said Avner Shalev, the institute’s director.
Chatila also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and visited Yad Vashem.
Chatila was born in Beirut into a family of Christian jewellers and moved to Switzerland at the age of two.
Now among Switzerland’s richest 300 people, he supports charities and causes, including many relating to Lebanon and Syrian refugees.
The auction was brought to Chatila’s attention by the European Jewish Association, which has sought to sway public opinion against the trade in Nazi memorabilia.
Rabbi Mehachem Margolin, head of the association, said Chatila’s surprise act had raised attention to such auctions.
He said it was a powerful statement against racism and xenophobia, especially coming from a non-Jew of Lebanese origin.
Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and Lebanese people are banned from communication with Israelis.
“There is no question that a message that comes from you is 10 times, or 100 times stronger than a message that comes from us,” Margolin told Chatila.
The message was not only about solidarity among people, but also “how one person can make such a huge change,” Margolin said.
“There’s a place for optimism.”