Monday, March 17, 2008

A Church for Qatar

Palm Sunday Eve saw the dedication of Qatar's first Christian house of worship of any sort -- a 2,700-seat (expandable to 5,000) parish church for the booming emirate's large expat population, who mostly perform service labor.

Situated on land donated by the emir -- yet without any crosses or campanile marking its exterior -- the church of the Our Lady of the Rosary was inaugurated in a five-hour Mass celebrated by the Vatican's Missions Czar Cardinal Ivan Dias, who served as papal legate.

As the Indian cardinal presented a relic of St Pio of Pietrelcina as a gift to the community, wire reports noted that some among the congregation wept.
The Mass was conducted in English, but prayers were also said in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Tagalog, Spanish and French for the many nationalities that would worship in the church.

Dozens of police were deployed around the church, which cost some $20 million, and female officers searched the handbags of women worshippers.

Western embassies, particularly from the United States and Britain, warned nationals living in Qatar to be extra vigilant after an Islamic militants on the Internet made threats linked to the opening of the church.

The US Embassy on Thursday released a warning that the new church might be targeted.

"Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include ... the new Christian Church complex in Doha," it said.
Worshippers said they were not concerned by the threats....
Qatar is a close ally of Washington and hosts the command headquarters for US forces in the Middle East.

In the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, police were seen on Saturday guarding one of the main churches in bustling Dubai and searching worshippers entering the compound. Police closed off access to cars around St. Mary's Church, and signs were put up in the street directing motorists to park their vehicles in other specified places.

A priest who asked not to be identified told AFP there had been no threat against the church and the security deployment was a preventive measure. Policemen said the "precautionary" moves would last until March 25, after Easter....

[T]he papal nuncio in the Gulf, Archbishop Paul-Munjed al-Hashem, said on the sidelines of the Doha Mass that talks had begun with Riyadh to convince it to become the final Gulf Arab state to allow churches.

"Discussions are under way with Saudi Arabia to allow the construction of churches in the kingdom," he said, adding that the country had between 3 and 4 million Christian residents. "We cannot forecast the outcome."
* * *

In other quick news on this Holy Monday:
  • Precisely a month before he's received by President Bush for the first papal visit to the White House since 1979, Pope Benedict made his most emphatic appeal yet for peace in Iraq at the close of yesterday's Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter's Square. After praising the "beautiful witness" of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, whose body was discovered Thursday after having been abducted by local militants, the pontiff took up his "loud and anguished" cry, saying "Enough with the massacres, enough with the violence, enough with hatred in Iraq!" Noting Wednesday's fifth anniversary of the first strikes on Baghdad, Benedict called on "the Iraqi people, who for five years have been bearing the consequences of war that has provoked the disintegration of its civil and social life: dear Iraqi people, lift up your heads and be yourselves, in the first place, the rebuilders of your national life!" Five years on -- with cost estimates invariably tipped beyond the $1 trillion mark -- the number of US troops killed in Iraq is approaching 4,000, with the number of civilian deaths placed between 200,000 and 600,000. At a fundraiser for GOP congressional candidates last week in Washington, the president told attendees that while "the fight has been tough" in Iraq, "removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever."
  • This Wednesday, the longtime Latin patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Michel Sabbah will reach his 75th birthday. The first native of the Holy Land to lead its small community of 80,000 Catholics -- which extends into Jordan and Cyprus -- Sabbah, a native of Nazareth, was named patriarch in 1987 and ordained to the episcopacy by John Paul II, who he led around his charge during the late pontiff's 2000 pilgrimage to the cradle of Christianity. Oft-critical of the Israeli government during his tenure, the Palestinian patriarch marked his impending retirement earlier this month with a rather epic pastoral letter expressing both thanksgiving for his ministry and highlighting the universal Christian vocation to become a "living gospel." Once his retirement is accepted by the Holy See, Sabbah will be succeeded by his Jordanian-born coadjutor, the onetime Vatican diplomat Fouad Twal, who B16 tapped as patriarch-in-waiting in 2005.
  • Speaking of the sons of Jerusalem, it's not every day that an independent news outlet -- well, other than this one -- can run a headline about a US-based prelate who's "won hearts all around." Then again, as the subject is Rome's messenger to these shores, no one should be surprised. In his second major interview of the month, papal nuncio to Washington Archbishop Pietro Sambi told Religion News Service that, as his Big Boss prepares for his six-day visit to New York and DC, Papa Ratzi "is not known enough" in the States. "What is known," Sambi said, "is not based on his personality but is based on the position that he had before as prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith.... As such, there are people who consider him a man of very solid principles, extremely rigid, inflexible, almost nonhuman." However, the nuncio added his confidence that, once the Pope arrives, "it will be enough to see him and to listen to him to discover a man of great human sensibility." Provided, that is, that the hope and clarity of Benedict's forward-looking words don't get buried under the visual barrage of the papal vestments.
  • And lastly, at a Saturday audience with his chief "Saintmaker" Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins CMF, the Pope green-lighted the progression of several causes for beatification and canonization, including a declaration of the heroic virtue of Fr Michael McGivney (1852-1890), the founder of the Knights of Columbus. Now entitled to the designation "Venerable," the new stage signifies that the customary investigation into the Connecticut priest's life and writings found them evidencing genuine, exemplary holiness. The next step is locating and investigating reported miracles attributed to McGivney's intercession. While only two of the 19 decrees granted Saturday involved cases of laypeople, the cause of a disabled journalist is rapidly heading toward beatification. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints recently approved a miraculous healing attributed to Ven. Manuel Lozano Garrido (1920-71), a Spanish reporter who spent nearly three decades confined to a wheelchair and the last decade of his life blind.
PHOTO: AFP/Getty(1,2)