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A Symbol of Tolerance: The Largest Catholic Church in the Arabian Peninsula

Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral: The Largest Catholic Church in Arabian Peninsula

Church's construction symbolizes Bahrain's commitment to religious tolerance.

Standing on a 9,000 square-meter land donated in 2013 by Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia is the largest Catholic church in the Arabian Peninsula.

This region, the birthplace of Islam, encompasses Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iraq, and Jordan.

Located in Awali, a town with a diverse population of migrant workers, the church was founded in 2021.

Its construction symbolizes Bahrain's commitment to religious tolerance.

The King of Bahrain visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, presenting him with a three-foot-long model of the cathedral.

They discussed peace in the Middle East and the contributions of Christians in Bahrain.

Despite Bahrain's traditional tolerance for different religions, the construction of the cathedral faced significant challenges.

Some Muslim communities declared the project haram, or forbidden, leading to year-long protests.

The clashes resulted in injuries and the loss of more than 50 lives.

The government attempted to relocate a prominent Muslim cleric who opposed the construction, but his followers' protests forced the authorities to cancel the reassignment

But the followers of this leader protested the government's decision to relocate him. As a result, the authorities were forced to cancel that order. 

In 2015, opposition groups urged Pope Francis to abandon the construction plans, claiming the land was taken from a public trust and arguing there was no need for another Catholic church in Bahrain.

Nevertheless, the groundbreaking ceremony took place in May 2018, and the cathedral was completed in November 2021.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, the first to be built in the region in 60 years, features a tent-like structure with an octagonal dome.

It houses two chapels: the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Chapel of Our Lady of Arabia.

In compliance with local laws and respect for the Muslim community, the cathedral has no external crosses or other Catholic symbols.

It was inaugurated on December 9, 2021. The inauguration was attended by Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa; Msgr. Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Administrator of Northern Arabia; Msgr. Eugene Nugent, the Apostolic Nuncio in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar; and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. 

The church was consecrated by Tagle in a liturgy on December 10, 2021.

Tagle was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples at the time. 

Over 15,000 people go to this church to worship in a week. 

Masses are celebrated in several languages among the expatriates, like English, Arabic, Tagalog, Malayalam, and Konkani. 

The cathedral serves as the seat of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. 

Pope Francis visited the cathedral on November 4, 2022, marking the first-ever papal visit to Bahrain.

He expressed his deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Bahrain for its recognition and appreciation of the Catholic community in the country.

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