The 2,700-seat church was built on land donated by Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, and five other buildings are under construction nearby for other Christian denominations in this oil-rich state where over 70% of the population are expatriate workers.Since the CIA's 2008 estimate of Qatar's population is 824,789, only 247,437 native Qatari are actual citizens! Only since March have those Catholics in the far-larger expatriate majority been allowed to worship in Qatar without fear of official reprisal.
"I convey very special greetings from the Holy Father to the Emir," said Cardinal Ivan Dias, the envoy of Pope Benedict XVI and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
"Without his precious gift of a land to the Catholic community, we would not be here today," Dias said.
Qatar follows the rigorous Wahabi teachings of Sunni Islam, and like neighboring Saudi Arabia had not previously authorized Christians to practice their faith openly.
A priest operated in Qatar since the 1960s without official approval, and the opening of the church Saturday appeared to be another sign of Qatar's efforts to open up to the West as it seeks a bid for the summer Olympic Games in 2016.
"It is a dream coming true," said Bishop Bernardo Gremoli, a former vicar of Arabia who initiated the church project more than 20 years ago.
Some 150,000 Christians of all denominations live in the emirate, over 90% of them Catholic expatriate workers from the Philippines, India and other Asian nations.
America has properly been welcoming as Muslim mosques and Hindu temples, among many other houses of worship, have been built to serve new immigrants to our shores. The same pattern has largely been replicated in the other countries of the West. It is a good sign, a very good sign, that this tolerance is at long last beginning to be reciprocated in the heart of the Arabian peninsula.
UPDATE: Worth noting, too, is that Qatar's desire to be judged worthy to hold the 2016 Summer Olympics was a driving force behind this decision. Globalization works its special magic again.