New Places of Christian Worship to Arise in Qatar

A Milestone Not Seen Since the 7th Century

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DOHA, Qatar, OCT. 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic community welcomed the concession of land in the emirate of Qatar, where a church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary will soon be built.



The laying of the first stone took place last Thursday, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In this Arab state, places for Christian worships have not been built since the seventh century.

The church will be built on land donated by the emir of Qatar, in a residential district of the capital, Doha. The emir has also donated land to Anglicans, Copts, Orthodox and Protestants to build their own churches.

The Parish of St. Mary of the Rosary, which will administer the future church, has about 48,000 faithful -- immigrants who came to the emirate for jobs. The birth of the Catholic mission in Qatar dates back to 1956.

Mass is currently celebrated in the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites, and in various languages, including Arabic, English, Italian, Urdu, Tagalog and Tamil.

"We are very happy," said Bishop Bernardo Gremoli, apostolic vicar of Arabia, who has been on a pastoral visit to the vicariate in recent days.

"For years we have been waiting for this moment: the authorization to build a church. There is great enthusiasm in the Catholic community," he said.

On Wednesday, Archbishop Giuseppe De Andrea, papal nuncio in Kuwait, told the missionary agency Fides: "This is a historic moment, an event of grace for the Church in this part of the world."

"Since Qatar established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 2003, relations have been cordial," he said. "The emir donated the land to the Catholic Church precisely during the Year of the Rosary; this is why the new church will be dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary."

Situated in the Arabic peninsula, the emirate of Qatar has just under 800,000 inhabitants, most of whom are Muslims. Its population is made up in general of Arab Bedouins, as well as immigrant workers from nearby Arab states and from Iran, Pakistan, India and the Philippines.

Qatar is a member of the United Nations and of the Arab League. Since June 27, 1995, the emir is the Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

Last Nov. 18, the Holy See and Qatar announced the establishment of official diplomatic relations. At that time, ZENIT learned that the agreement made provision for the Qatar government to put one or several plots of land at the disposition of the Catholic Church for the building of churches, according to the needs of the faithful.

Although Islam is the majority religion, the country has some 60,000 Catholic immigrants, especially from the Philippines and India.

Father Justo Lacunza Balda, the director of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, told Vatican Radio: "These new Christian places, with an interconfessional dimension, have, in fact, two profound meanings. Above all, they represent a dimension of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue among the Churches and, in particular, among the Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Anglicans."

There is also "profound meaning linked to the interreligious and cultural dialogue in a country where the official religion is Islam," he said. This suggests the "need for dialogue" through "reciprocal knowledge and learning."