Under the watchful eye of the Qatari security services deployed to prevent disturbances, 15,000 Christians of various nationalities attended the opening mass of the first Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic church, in the Qatari capital Doha.
As with all other churches in the Gulf the church has no bells or crosses visible on the outside.
In order to facilitate the huge number of visitors, who according to local media began arriving early in the morning, huge screens had been erected on the grounds of the church in order for everyone to follow the blessing of the church, which holds 5,000 worshippers.
The mass itself was held in English, but prayers were said in Spanish, French, Hindi, Urdu and Tagalog as many different nationalities use the church.
The ceremony was led by Vatican envoy Cardinal Ivan Dias, who expressed his gratitude to God and the state of Qatar for the wonderful gift.
However, the joy was dampened by threats posted on several websites by Islamist terrorists who appose the construction of Christian places of worship in Muslim countries.
The local U.S. embassy released a statement saying: “Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests… such as the new Christian Church complex in Doha.”
Qatari Deputy Prime Minster Abdullah bin Hamad al- Attiyah, who attended the opening, was quoted as saying: “At the moment we are enjoying the construction of mosques and Islamic centers in the West, so we must be fair towards Christians in the region and allow them places of worship.”
Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic church is one of five churches planned for the small, oil-rich country, which relies heavily on migrant workers, many of whom are Christian, to facilitate the booming economy.
In neighboring Dubai visitors to St Mary’s Catholic Church met a heavy police presence on Saturday as they came to pray. They were told there had not been a tangible threat, but protective measures would remain in place until the end of Easter on March 25.
Many of the countries have taken a respectful stand on the construction of churches. The oldest church in the region can be found in Bahrain where American Anglican missionaries founded their own church in 1906.
In Kuwait there are about 10 different churches and in the kingdom of Oman the ruler, Sultan Qabous Bin Sa’id, has donated land for the construction of churches.
The only country that does not allow churches is Saudi Arabia, which follows the strict Islamic school of Wahhabism and is home to the two holiest sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina.