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Pope Francis has shown his support for a new Catholic cathedral in the Persian Gulf by giving a brick from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome as the building’s foundation stone.
The apostolic vicar of northern Arabia, Bishop Camillo Ballin, blessed the foundation stone for the new Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia in the town of Awali in Bahrain.
The cathedral will be the largest Catholic church in the Persian Gulf and is intended to serve Catholics from Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain.
The 31 May ceremony was attended by the nuncio to the Arabian Peninsula, Archbishop of Sarsenterum Petar Rajic, and Catholics from Bahrain and neighbouring Gulf states.
The brick was extracted from the Holy Door of the Basilica, the northernmost entrance that is normally cemented shut. It was opened by Saint John Paul II in 2000 to celebrate the Jubilee year.
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, who donated the land for the cathedral, presented Pope Francis with a scale model of the building at the Vatican last month.
Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN) said the 2,500-seat 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”.
According to ACN, there are 100,000 Catholics in Bahrain in a population of 1.3 million, of whom around 250,000 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 1.5 million Filipino and Indian Catholic migrant workers, face threats of imprisonment and deportation if they attempt to practise their faith openly.
Pope Francis is presented with a gift from King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain during a meeting at the Vatican May 19. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri, pool via Reuters)