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A Catholic charity has given an “exceptional” £420,000 towards the construction of Bahrain’s first Catholic cathedral, which will also serve Catholics in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where church-building is outlawed.
Aid to the Church in Need said the 2,500-seater building “will not only be a major centre for Catholics from all over Bahrain but also for Catholics from the neighbouring countries of the region, above all from nearby Saudi Arabia, where it is impossible to build any Christian churches.”
The cathedral will be built on land that has been given to the country’s Christian minority by Bahraini King Isa Al Khalifah. Construction is due to start in October on the site in Awali, to the south of the capital, Manama City. The total cost of the project is expected to cost £16.8m.
According to ACN there are 100,000 Catholics in Bahrain out of a population of 1.3 million, of whom around a quarter of a million are non-nationals. Some 2,000 Catholics are Bahrainis, mainly of Middle Eastern descent. Until now there have only been two Catholic churches in the country. Christians in Saudi Arabia, who include an estimated 1.5m Filipino and Indian Catholic migrant workers, are prohibited from practising their faith openly.
Bishop Camillo Ballin of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia told the US-based National Catholic Reporter that Catholics in Bahrain – who include many Asian low-paid workers – had donated all they could from their salaries. He appealed for Christians elsewhere to give to the cause.
The Italian-born bishop has invited all women named Mary and men named Mario to each donate US$10 for the cathedral because of its dedication to Our Lady of Arabia, the region's patroness. “We need an ocean of money, but an ocean formed by many drops. Any drop is precious for us,” he said.
He said that the people of Bahrain were “open-minded” and that he did not expect any violent reactions to the project.
Two years ago the king gave permission for the offices of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, which includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, to open in Bahrain.
They moved from Kuwait City following an increase in hostility towards non-Muslims in Kuwait.