Manama: Bahrain, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, has 19 officially registered churches, statistics indicate.
Half of the churches are located in the Capital Government, the figures from the social development ministry, show.
The National Evangical Church became in 1906 the first church to offer services in Bahrain.
Roman Catholics have two churches, the Sacred Heart Church in Manama, and the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Visitation in Awali a former oil town in central Bahrain.
The Sacred Heart, built in 1940, serves around 140,000 people, mainly Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans.
The number of native Christians is not known in Bahrain, a country where expatriates, mainly from Asian countries, make up slightly more than half of the total population of 1,050,000 people.
However, the Christian community has been regularly represented in the upper chamber of the bicameral parliament since 2002 when constitutional life was reinvigorated following a three-decade hiatus.
Alice Samaan, a high-profile figure who made history by becoming in April 2005 the first Christian to chair a parliamentary session in Bahrain, is now the ambassador in London. Hoda Nonoo, who represented the Jewish community in the upper chamber, is Bahrain’s ambassador in Washington.
The 19 churches are among the 452 non-governmental organisations, clubs and institutions that are registered with the ministry.
According to the social development figures, 113, one quarter of the total number of the NGOs, are not Bahrainis. They also include 46 associations, 36 clubs and 12 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) groups.
Social associations make up 26.5 per cent and vocational associations make up 17 per cent of the total number of Bahraini organisations. Women’s rights groups at 19 make up 5.6 per cent of the total. Bahrain is home to 15 youth groups.
Charity funds, present mainly in the Northern Governorate, make up 17 per cent of the non-governmental groups.