Qatar: building of first Catholic church begins

Work has begun on the construction of Qatar's first purpose-built church in the desert outside Doha, the country's capital. Although the country's native inhabitants are entirely Muslim - and are prohibited by law from converting to another faith - the church will cater to the large number of Christian migrants who have come to the Arabia Gulf state to work.

The Arab news network Al Jazeera reports that Catholics from all over the Arabian Peninsula - many of them migrant workers - are helping to pay for the 15million-dollar building, which is scheduled to open at the end of the year. Overseeing the church is Rt Rev Paul Hinder, the Catholic bishop of Arabia whose diocese is the entire Arabian peninsular, encompassing six countries: Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and even Saudi Arabia.

Speaking about the Christian communities in Saudi Arabia, he said: "It's not an open church. Privately the Christians may gather in their houses in a very discreet manner." "Of course it's not easy to be a bishop here [in the Gulf]," he said. "But at least regarding the church life it is full of vitality."

Bishop Hinder said allowing Christians to worship freely could only bring benefits to the countries in which they are working. "The more they [people] are satisfied spiritually the more they will continue to help develop the country; it's obvious." The majority of the two million expatriate Christians are Filipinos, Lebanese and Indians.

"We have to accept that we are expatriates in every sense of the word. We are a pure pilgrimage church," the bishop said.

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