Vicariate moving from Kuwait to Bahrain, citing accessibility

In an atmosphere of regional sectarian tensions, the headquarters of the Apostolic Vicar for Northern Arabia is being transferred from Kuwait to Bahrain, where the royal family has given land for the vicariate and a new church.

The apostolic vicar, Bishop Camillo Ballin, said the move is being made because Bahrain is more central and “easily accessible for meetings and conferences of Church officials”.

Bahrain’s easier visa regime has been suggested as a factor in the vicariate’s decision, which has come after several threats to the religious freedom of Christians in the region.

A Kuwaiti member of Parliament, Osama Al-Munawer, said he would submit a bill calling for the removal of all churches in Kuwait. After facing criticism, he later said that existing churches should remain, but he advocated a ban on the construction of any new non-Islamic places of worship.

In March, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah, reportedly said it is “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region” in accord with an ancient rule that only Islam may be practised there.

Shi’ite clerics in Iran are criticising Bahrain’s Sunni monarch, King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, for granting the Catholic Church 9000 square metres to build a new church, complaining that he destroyed dozens of Shi’ite mosques during the unrest that erupted there early last year.

In Bahrain the head of the Salafist Asalah party, Abdel Halim Murad, said the building of churches in Islamic lands was “haram” (forbidden) and that the sound of church bells could not be allowed to drown out the call to prayer in the Arabian peninsula, the cradle of Islam.

The vicariate tends to the spiritual needs of around two million Catholics in the Arab Gulf states, the vast majority of them expatriates from the Philippines, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Bahrain already has one Catholic church, built in 1939 and serving about 80,000 Catholics, and shares another place of worship with the Anglican community.

The apostolic nunciature in Kuwait will remain.


Catholic News Agency

Image: Arabian Gazette

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