Bahrain inaugurates Cathedral of Mary Queen of Arabia
By Lisa Zengarini
The small Catholic community of the Emirate of Bahrain is preparing to celebrate the solemn opening of the largest Catholic Church in the Arabic Peninsula dedicated to their Patron Saint.
The Cathedral of Mary Queen of Arabia will be inaugurated on December 9 - significantly, one day after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. It will be subsequently consecrated on December 10 by Cardinal Louis Tagle, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelizations of Peoples. The consecration will be attended only by a small group of faithful, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Land donated by King Hamad
The cathedral, seating 2,300 people, is located in Awali, a small town in the centre of Bahrain. The project dates back to February 2013 when King Hamad donated a 9,000 square-meter piece of land to the local Catholic community so it could build a church. The project was enthusiastically supported the then Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia, late Bishop Camillo Ballin, MCCI.
The new church is the second cathedral built in the Apostolic Vicariate (which includes Bahrain, Kuwait and, formally, Saudi Arabia) after the Holy Family in the Desert Cathedral in Madinat al-Kuwait.
The Cathedral compound will not only become a reference place of worship for the Catholic community in the region, but also its episcopal curia.
It will host a reception house and a formation center to support local Christian the locals. A virtual description of the building can be found on the website. One of its main features is a polychrome statue of Our Lady of Arabia placed inside.
80,000 Catholics in Bahrain
The Kingdom of Bahrain is one of the few Muslim countries in the Arabic Peninsula to have a local Christian population, notably Roman Catholic, since 1930.
Christians presently make up 10% of its inhabitants, and include some 80,000 Catholics, mainly migrant workers from Asia, for the most part from India and the Philippines. Among them there are also many expats from Western countries.
Although Islam is the official religion of the country and the Shariah (Islamic Law) is applied, Christian and other religious groups enjoy freedom of worship, as opposed to neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Also, the Kingdom of Bahrain who entertains diplomatic relations with the Holy See, has shown openness to interreligious dialogue.
King Hamad has endorsed the the historic Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, on 4 February 2019. He recently invited Pope Francis to visit the country.