Chapel of the Beach
An abandoned Catholic chapel in one of the most remote regions of North Africa, has been restored and returned to the religious order that built it. The building in Port Laayoune, Western Sahara, was built around 1966 by Fr Rafael Alvarez, to serve Catholics living in the area when the territory was a Spanish posession. The presbytery and other church buildings were taken over by a family after Spain left and Morocco invaded the Western Sahara in the 1975 'Green March'.
The family respected the chapel and left it empty. As the older generation died, younger family members took over the property. Through the years, occasionally priests would hold services in the chapel, but with the decline of Christians in the region after the Green March, for many years the Chapel of the Beach went unused.
After the intervention of Layoune Wali, the governor appointed by the king of Morocco, and the Port of Laayoune Pasha (the local city council), the family moved out and the property was returned to the Oblates.
Goats, chickens and other animals had lived in the one bedroom dwelling with the family and the house and chapel were in a very poor condition. After some cleaning and renovation work, and connecting water and electricity supplies, the property is now fully operational again. Fr Mario Leon, Superior of the Mission of the Sahara officially received the key to the residence and the sacristy on 3 October, 2012.
The chapel of Port Laayoune is now the third Catholic place of worship in the Western Sahara. It is 26km from the city of Laayoune, the mission headquarters and principal place of worship. The third church is in Dakhla, (the ancient city of Villacisneros), 538km from Laayoune.
The occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco is one of the unresolved territorial disputes of the United Nations. A Spanish posession from 1885, after Spain left in 1975, the territory was invaded by Mauritania and Morocco. The Mauritanians left but Morocco is still in occupation while the Saharawi people are demanding their own autonomous state. For more information see: http://www.smalgangen.org/