Christianity is returning to the Persian Gulf, thanks to the liberal approach of the current rulers in the Muslim states of Qatar and United Arab Emirates. While war is taking its toll in the Holy Land with the number of Christians dwindling in Iraq and Lebanon, Christianity is returning to the Middle East centering around the large expatiate population who are working in the oil-rich gulf countries. The majority Muslim country of Qatar which has a head count of 100,000 Christian population will inaugurate its Our Lady of Rosary church on Feb. 2 next year. The church constructed at a cost of US$15 million has been funded by Catholics throughout the Arabian Peninsula -- and was earlier scheduled to open at the end of this year but has been pushed back by one more month. The land for the Roman Catholic Church center has been donated by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who came to power in 1995. The Church center will include conference facilities, temporary living accommodations, a library, and a cafe. Catholics in Qatar have been for the last 20 years approaching the Qatari rulers for permission to build a church in Qatar and the first signs of things moving came in 2006 when land was gifted for construction of the church building which lies south of the capital on the outskirts of the capital Doha. The birth of the Catholic mission in Qatar dates back to 1956. For the last fourteen centuries the Christians in this part of the land had been without a place of worship. The Christian communities'' majority from India, Philippines and Lebanon have been conducting their activities in schools. The oil rich country’s, economic boom have attracted the Christian expatriates to migrate to the region. According to Historical accounts Missionaries brought Christianity to the Gulf in the second half of the 5th century but it disappeared from most Gulf Arab states with the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. Diplomatic relations and exchange of ambassadors between Vatican and Qatar started only in 2002. The construction of Christian Church in Qatar were earlier opposed by the Wahabi majority who saw them as an extension of the Holy Land. The church will not have a spire or freestanding cross, like most of the churches here in the Arabian Gulf. Christians are forbidden by the Dhimmi laws to display crosses. The government permits freedom of worship to the Christian but prohibits conversions. "After over 20 years of making formal requests to the authorities, the government has finally granted the Christian confessions land to build their own places of worship. The Catholic community were given the largest piece of land, because our presence here goes back down the centuries and also because our community is the largest, now numbering over 100,000 faithful," Father Tom Veneration, head of the Doha parish centre who has been working in Doha for the past three years and is originally from Manila has been quoted in AsiaNews as saying. Addressing the faithful on the occasion of the Easter celebrations at the Doha Parish centre in April this year Father Tom had said: "This is the last time we celebrate Easter at this parish centre. Next year we will finally celebrate it in the new church." Qatar has a population of about 800,000 majority of them expatiates.
Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Arabia under whose region comes countries ranging from Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, to Saudi Arabia, is looking after the development of the Qatar Church project.
And in neighboring United Arab Emirates which consists of seven emirates signs of religious tolerance are showing with the Holy See establishing diplomatic relations and exchanging ambassadors with the United Arab Emirates.
This is country where there are many more immigrants than citizens. Foreigners now make up more than 70 percent of the more than 4 million inhabitants, coming from other Arab countries, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Christians account for more than 35 percent of the population.
In Saudi Arabia, where the holy city of Mecca is located an estimated million expatiates Catholics can be found.
And for Christianity which has been facing a backlash losing their members to other faiths and also the dwindling of congregations across Europe and United States, the increasing profession of Christian faith in the Gulf is welcomed sign. But that apart the religious tolerance in a largely Muslim country argues well for a world tore apart by religious infighting.