Doha: Pope Benedict XVI sent a greeting message to Emir Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani and the people of the country on Friday on the occasion of the dedication of the first Catholic Church in the Gulf country.

Cardinal Ivan Diaz, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, conveyed the Pope's message at the consecration of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary during a four-hour ceremony attended by more than 10,000 people.

"The Holy Father sends his very special greetings to the Emir of Qatar and the beautiful people of this country ... I want to thank the Emir for the gracious gift of this land and his permission to build the church that we consecrate today," said Cardinal Diaz, who co-celebrated together with the Bishop of Arabia Monsignor Paul Hinder, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Arabian Peninsula Monsignor Mounged Al Hachem, former bishop of Arabia Monsignor Bernardo Gremoli, former Vatican Nuncio Monsignor Giuseppe de Andrea, and some 20 representatives of the Capuchins order.

Roman Catholics representing 63 nationalities in Doha took part in the ceremonies with traditional and ethnic dances and hymns in the enchanting settings of the new church designed and built by Italian artists with the contribution of celebrated sacred art painter Valentino Vago.

Joyous occasion

The emotional ceremony reached its climax when Cardinal Diaz presented the chalice donated by the Holy Father to the Church and placed a relic of Saint Padre Pio Da Pietralcina in the altar during the dedication ceremony.

"We worked many years to reach this, and we could not have done it without the support of the Emir of Qatar," said Bishop of Arabia, Paul Hinder, whose vicariate includes 2 million Catholics across the entire Arabian Peninsula. More than 3,000 inside the church repeatedly applauded the Emir in sign of gratitude for the donation of the land and his policy of openness and tolerance towards religious communities living in the country.

Monsignor Giuseppe Bernardo Gremoli, the former bishop of Arabia for 30 years, and initiator of the church project, said he had started to dream of a church in Qatar 20 years ago. "Today that dream has come true," he told worshippers.

On Friday night a private ceremony for the Qatari authorities and the Vatican representatives took place at the church premises. Abdullah Al Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy and Industry, attended the event. "We are glad to have the first Catholic Church. Muslims have mosques and places of worship in Christian countries, it is time we also host a church," he told reporters.

"Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance and dialogue. We in Qatar are proud to be the only country to have an annual interreligious conference for the three monotheistic faiths," he said.

Ministerspeak: Papal 'visit welcome'

"Qatar welcomes the Pope," Abdullah Al Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy and Industry, told reporters on Friday night during a visit to the new Catholic Church in Doha.

"We have spoken of a visit with Apostolic Nuncio to the Arabian Peninsula Monsignor Mounged Al Hachem. We would be glad to welcome the Pope any time," the Deputy Prime Minister told reporters.

Asked by reporters to comment on the voices of disagreement within the Qatari community, Al Attiyah said: "I respect all opinions."

Qatar hosts more than 100,000 Roman Catholics and about 50,000 Christians of other denominations.