The Catholic community in the Gulf state of Qatar are gearing up for the inauguration of their first church in 14 centuries, Our Lady of the Rosary Church will be consecrated on Friday, 14 March, in time for Holy Week. At a cost of $15million, raised from donations from the Christian community, the church has been built on land donated by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Our Lady's will have seats for 2,700 people. It is the first of five churches for different denominations. The others are Anglican, Coptic, Greek Orthodox and an Inter-denomination Christian church. The centre will include conference facilities, living accommodations, a library, and a cafe.
The church will not have a spire or freestanding cross, since Christians are forbidden to display crosses in the Arab Gulf states.
Permission to build a church, had been sought for the last 20 years. For the last fourteen centuries the Christians in this area have been without a place of worship. Qatar pursues a policy of tolerance and promotion of religious rights, which has also become law under the new Qatari Constitution.
While Christians are officially registered as a religious group, other religious communities such as the Hindus, Buddhists and Baha'is do not have recognition but are tolerated and they exercise religious practices in private.
Prof Ebrahim Al Nuaimi, former president of Qatar University and head of the Doha International Centre for Inter-faith Dialogue, told Gulf News the construction of the new churches was welcomed by the Qatari population. "Christianity and Islam and Judaism are Abrahamic religions and we are brothers in the faith. Our religion and our culture are tolerant and our people are ready to accept the presence of churches," he said.
Qatar is home to around 120,000 Christians of all denominations out of a population of almost a million, whose majority is Muslim. The International Religious Freedom Report for 2007 puts the approximate number of Roman Catholics in Qatar at 80,000, Eastern and Greek Orthodox and Anglicans at 10,000, and Copts at 3,000.
Missionaries brought Christianity to the Gulf in the second half of the 5th century but it disappeared from most Gulf Arab states within a few centuries of the arrival of Islam. Over the past 100 years, particularly since the discovery of oil, Christian expatriates have migrated to the region which is currently enjoying an economic boom that is attracting many foreign workers.