Doha: The Catholic community here yesterday laid the first stone for a new church, the first to be built in Qatar.
Bishop Paul Hinder, apostolic vicar of Arabia, presided over the ceremony as parish priest and hundreds of community members assembled around him in the Abu Hammour area, on the outskirts of the capital Doha.
The church will be built on a plot of land donated by His Highness Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar to the Christian community, which numbers about 60,000 people, mainly of Asian origin.
Other Christian denominations, including Anglicans, Copts and Orthodox will build their churches on the same land.
"It is a historic day for the Catholic community here. We have been waiting for a long time to have a proper place of worship," Queny Daniel, an Indian resident who has been living in Doha for several years, told Gulf News.
A parish priest, who asked not to be named, said there was great enthusiasm in the Catholic community, who had donated generously to collect the funds necessary for the project.
The new building will also include facilities for community activities and accommodation for the priests.
Construction is due to start soon and the project is expected to be completed by 2007, according to sources close to the parish centre.
In the meantime, the Anglican church said that one quarter of the cost of the construction of its church has been raised.
Clive Handford, Nicosia-based Anglican bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, said the construction would include a church, to be known as the Church of the Epiphany, as well as temporary accommodation, conference facilities and a café, according to reports in foreign media.
The announcement of the donation of the land was made several years ago, but only recently Qatari officials agreed to talk about the decision.
Speaking to Gulf News earlier, Mohammad Jahan Al Kawar, Qatari Ambassador to the Vatican, said Qatar had granted new land to the Christian community to allow them to build new worship centres.
Nationals approve the construction
Qatar nationals said they approve the construction of new churches in the country and said only a minority of the local population would not agree.
Gulf News spoke to Qatari nationals and residents, following news that several Christian denominations have started construction of churches on a land allotted to them by the authorities.
"The construction of churches in the country is good news. Christians are welcome and so are their places of worship," Yousuf Obaidan, a Qatari constitutionalist and a leading intellectual figure told Gulf News yesterday. Obaidan has published several articles and extensively debated on the issue of the land allotted to the Christian community and the construction of new churches, saying that the initiative is welcomed by the Qatari society. He mainly aimed to contradict the controversial declarations of Qatar's former minister of justice Najeeb Al Nuami, who told regional media that Qataris were 'very angry'.
"Qataris could perceive it as a weakening of Islam in our land," he was reported as saying. Al Nuami was not available for comment yesterday.
"I want to contradict Dr Al Nuami. He is very wrong and he does not know the Qatari community at all," Obaidan told Gulf News.
"There were temporary places of worship for Christians here in Qatar even before and for many years they have prayed undisturbed. So it will be in the future," said Mohammad Al Misfar, political analyst and professor at Qatar University."