“Dear Lady of Arabia”: Bahrain gets catholic cathedral

Status: 10.12.2021 3:42 p.m.

With the dedication of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia, Bahrain has the largest church in the Arabian Gulf. The ruling family supported the building – but not only out of charity.

By Björn Blaschke, ARD-Studio Cairo

The “Lady of Arabia” was inaugurated in the Bahraini city of Awali, 23 kilometers south of the capital Manama. With space for 2,300 worshipers, it is the largest cathedral in the Arab Gulf States.

Bjorn Blaschke
ARD-Studio Kairo

The church has an important function in the Vicariate of North Arabia: It will be the seat of the bishop – even if it is vacant at the moment, said Bishop Paul Hinder, papal administrator of the region. “It will be the spiritual center for Catholics in four countries – Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.”

Consecration of the second largest church on the Arabian Peninsula in Bahrain

Daniel Hechler, ARD Cairo, daily news 12:00 p.m., December 10th, 2021

Millions of Catholics in Gulf States

According to the Catholic Church, more than two million members of their religious community live in the four countries, mostly migrant workers from all over the world. Of the well over one and a half million inhabitants of Bahrain, non-Muslim people make up around a third – around 500,000 people.

“In Bahrain there are between 100,000 and 120,000 Catholics of various nationalities,” says the Catholic brother Charbel, who came to Bahrain as a Lebanese church minister. “There are also believers from America, Europe, Africa, Australia, but definitely most of the Christians come from India and the Philippines.”

Bahrain and the other Arab Gulf States are a multi-ethnic and multi-religious region ruled by Muslims. The dome of the Cathedral of the “Dear Lady of Arabia” alludes to all of this: It is reminiscent of a tent, the original dwelling of desert peoples. On top of that, according to the Old Testament, Moses had a tent of meeting erected – as God’s dwelling place. And the books of Moses – who is a prophet for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike – shows the common origin of their religions.

Modern church architecture: the interior of the cathedral.

Image: AFP

Bahrain is tolerant to the outside world

“We live in freedom in Bahrain. We are respected and nobody discriminates against us or treats us badly,” says Brother Charbel. “The Bahrainis are friendly. There is respect from the government and at the same time from the people who are open to Christians. We must not forget that the first Catholic church in Bahrain dates back to 1939.”

Before that, other houses of prayer had already been built – the first two hundred years ago: a Buddhist temple. In other words: Bahrain has long been tolerant; with the construction and inauguration of the cathedral once again special.

This tolerance is also celebrated by Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, member of the royal family and Vice Prime Minister of Bahrain: “It is worth noting that the spirit that resides in the two hundred year period in which we lived in tolerance and peaceful coexistence is from His Majesty our King, Sheikh Hamad, must have inherited, “he says. “He donated the property to the church and supported it from the beginning.”

Image cultivation in the repressive state

But the demonstrative, generous tolerance is also likely to have an inherent political thought: Bahrain is considered repressive. The way in which the Sunni royal family dealt with the Shiite majority of the population, who repeatedly call for democracy, is sometimes considered brutal. And: In 2011, with help from Saudi Arabia, the royal family put down an uprising in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring.

“Bahrain’s human rights record over the past decade has generally been marked by the suppression of key civil political rights, particularly freedom of expression, assembly and association,” said Devin Kennes of the human rights organization Amnesty International.

The plan to build a cathedral in Bahrain had been around for a long time. Interestingly, however, it did not take shape until 2011, after the uprising in the kingdom was put down. With the construction of the Cathedral of the “Dear Lady of Arabia”, the royal house of Bahrain certainly also wants to polish up its image – and not just give Christendom a disinterested gift at Christmas time.

“Dear Lady of Arabia” – Inauguration of the first Catholic cathedral in Arab Bahrain

Björn Blaschke, ARD Cairo, December 10th, 2021 12:24 p.m.


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