Manama : The Church of Bahrain and the Gulf recently celebrated the formal start of the construction of the new cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, patron saint of the Arabian Peninsula.
The new place of worship, which will meet the needs of the local Christian community composed mainly of economic migrants and seasonal workers, includes a multifunctional centre that can host social, educational and cultural events.
Situated some 20 km from the capital, Manama, the compound will have a church. It will be connected to a building that will be the home to the episcopal curia and include a guest house, educational and pastoral outreach facilities as well as administrative offices.
The land was donated by the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The ground-breaking ceremony was held on 10 June and construction should be completed by the end of 2021.
The cathedral, under the patronage of Our Lady of Arabia, will be a concrete testimony of the Christian presence in one of the most powerful monarchies of the mostly Muslim Gulf and region.
As the country’s second place of Christian worship, the cathedral will be able to accommodate up to 2,000 people and will serve as the see of the Church for the northern Persian Gulf.
The inauguration ceremony, with the laying of the first stone, was a time of celebration for the whole community that gathered to hear the Gospel, followed by a brief moment of prayer.
The service was attended by priests and laity, believers and high-ranking dignitaries, including the ambassadors of France and Italy, as well as a representative of the King of Bahrain.
The Apostolic Nuncio, Francisco Montecillo Padilla, the Vicar of northern Arabia Camillo Ballin and Christians from Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were also present.
A time capsule was also prepared for the site, with a history of the Catholic Church, a history of the Church in the Vicariate and additional information on the cathedral. It will be interred in the building’s foundations.
According to local sources, the project is due to the faith and perseverance of the local community, whose members put aside money for the construction. At present, more fund raising is needed to meet building costs.
For local Catholics, mostly immigrants, often victims of harassment, discrimination and hardships, the construction of a cathedral with its associated centre is a source of pride and satisfaction.
In Bahrain, Islam is the official religion and Sharia or Islamic law underpins the country’s legal system.
The first Catholics, who number about 80,000 out of a total of 1.5 million inhabitants (10 per cent Christians), came originally from Iraq and Iran.
With the oil boom, hundreds of thousands of other Christians came from Sri Lanka, India, Lebanon, the Philippines and several Western countries.
At Christmas and Easter, the churches of Bahrain also welcome Christians from Saudi Arabia, where every religion other than Islam is banned.
The Kingdom is also home to Jewish and Hindu communities.