In Bahrain, Our Lady of Arabia will be consecrated today

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The king of the country, one of the big supporters of the project and donor of the land, inaugurated the new complex, which will serve Catholic migrant workers.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, which covers Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has an estimated 2.5 million Catholics who are mostly migrant workers from different nations and cultures. To provide them with pastoral care, the late Bishop Camillo Ballin launched a daring project: the construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, patron saint of the Persian Gulf.

Today December 10, 2021, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia will be consecrated by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, in the presence of Archbishop Eugene M Nugent, Apostolic Nuncio for Kuwait and Bahrain and Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Administrator of North Arabia, after the death of Bishop Camillo Ballin in May 2020.

Yesterday, December 9, 2021, His Majesty King Hamad Bin Isa bin Saman Al Khalifa, one of the big supporters of the project and donor of the 9,000 square meters of land, inaugurated the new complex.

“The people are very enthusiastic and joyful, and await the historic moment of the inauguration and blessing of the cathedral. But we miss our Bishop Camillo Ballin very much, ”said Father Saji Thomas, project manager and pastor of the new cathedral, located in Awali, south of the country’s capital, Manama.

Bro. Saji considers the cathedral as “a model of religious harmony, a sign of the tolerance of the Kingdom of Bahrain and an excellent example of peaceful coexistence in the world”. The first Catholic cathedral in the Persian Gulf in modern times was also built in Bahrain in 1939 on land granted by the Emir of Bahrain.

“Recently, on September 30, 2021, the King’s Personal Representative and Chairman of the Supreme Environment Council, His Highness Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa, visited the cathedral. He expressed his joy by visiting the facilities and the cathedral itself. He was very impressed with the hand painted icons and the expansive structure. Along with the faithful, he himself is looking forward to the opening of the largest church in the Arabian Peninsula, ”Father Saji told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The construction of the cathedral marks a big step forward in Church-State relations and is also a testament to the ever-growing number of Catholics in the region. The Pontifical Foundation and the international charity ACN have supported various stages of this project for Christians in the Arabian Peninsula. So far, only five officially designated churches have cared for Catholics in the 880,000 square miles that make up the peninsula.

Recalling Bishop Ballin, Regina Lynch, ACN Project Manager, said: “He showed great determination at the time to overcome a number of challenges. Since the cornerstone laying ceremony on May 31, 2014, it has been more than six years of hard work and many hardships. I’m sure Bishop Ballin is celebrating with us in Heaven.

Until now, Bahrain had only one church in the capital and a small chapel in the suburbs. With 90,000 Catholics in the country, 25 masses were to be celebrated in the parish from Friday to Sunday and the church was packed.

“There is a floating population that comes and goes for work purposes. We have an international community here, mainly from India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, but also many countries in Latin America and Africa. As for the rites, we have Latin, Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, Maronite, Coptic, etc. », Explains Father Saji.

The cathedral is not only for Catholics in Bahrain, but also for all Catholics in the Arabian Peninsula, which includes four countries. This is especially important for the faithful in Saudi Arabia, where there is not a single church to bring together nearly 1.5 million Catholics. “Throughout the Arabian Peninsula, but particularly in Saudi Arabia, the public practice of Christianity is severely restricted and limited to the grounds of foreign embassies and private homes. For this reason, many Christians who live in Saudi Arabia come to the neighboring nation of Bahrain to receive the sacraments and live their faith in community, ”said Regina Lynch.

“Christians in Bahrain have a very difficult life. Not because of the government, but because they left their country, their family and their friends. Many are alone. So they suffer a lot and need special spiritual training to help them stay what they are, otherwise they will be lost, ”explains Regina Lynch. Especially at this time with COVID-19, the economic crisis and the shortage of jobs, the new cathedral is a sign of hope for all Christians on the peninsula.

“Awali Cathedral has a capacity of 2,300 seats, with two chapels and two large halls with places of confession. Structurally, the shape of the cathedral resembles a tent in which, according to the Old Testament, the prophet Moses met his people, ”Father Saji told ACN.

One of the chapels houses the image of the patroness of the Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia, Our Lady of Arabia – the crowned Virgin Mary holding a rosary and the infant Jesus. The new complex next to the cathedral will be the seat of the Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia, established in August 2012. The center will also be open to other Christian denominations.

This article was first published by Aid to the Church in Need-USA and is republished here with kind permission. To learn more about ACN’s mission to help the Suffering Church, visit www.churchinneed.org

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