The biggest Catholic church in the Arabian peninsula has opened its doors in Bahrain.
The cavernous Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, with seats for 2,300 people, will serve the Gulf country’s small Catholic community.
“We’re happy for this church,” Bahrain-based priest Father Charbel Fayad told AFP. “It will be for the spiritual needs and spiritual health of all the people.”
The modern-style church, with two tiers of seating, an octagonal dome and two chapels lies about 1.6 kilometres from a large mosque and a stone’s throw from an oil well in the south of the state. The grey walls are made with pietra serena stone only produced in Florence. Icons on the wall portray the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; they are made with materials including 24 carat gold shipped from Italy.
The Vatican estimates Bahrain has some 80,000 Catholics, mainly workers from Asia, mostly India and the Philippines.
“Christians and non-Christians, all are children of God and they are all welcome here in this beautiful church,” Father Charbel said.
Bahrain has long allowed faiths other than Islam the freedom to worship in peace. The Gulf’s first Roman Catholic church – The Sacred Heart Church – opened in Manama in 1939.
Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain, granted the 9,000 square metre plot of land for the currently opened church eight years ago.
Bishop Paul Hinder, the head of the Catholic Vicariate of northern Arabia said the Catholic Church was grateful to Bahrain. “Tolerance is important but not only tolerance,” said Bishop Hinder. “It needs entering into an understanding of each other. That doesn’t mean I have to convert to the other religion but I have to have a proper understanding and get rid of all the prejudices. It is an ongoing process and never finished.”
King Hamad also endorsed the Document on Human Fraternity, signed in Abu Dhabi by the Pontiff and Dr Ahmed El Tayeb, grand imam of the Al Azhar in 2019 that aims to bring people together in the spirit of respect and tolerance.
King Hamad has invited Pope Francis to visit Bahrain.
(Agencies; Picture Courtesy: AFP)