MANAMA – Bahrain will donate a plot of land to build a new Catholic church in the country. The decision by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa (photo) comes in response to a request Pope Benedict XVI made to the Gulf State when its new ambassador presented its credentials last Dec 18.

“Everyone is aware today that because of the rising number of Catholics, it would be desirable for them to have more places of worship,” the pope said during the audience with Naser Muhamed Youssef Al-Belooshi, first representative of the Arab kingdom to the Vatican.

About 80 percent of the 800,000 people living in the country are Muslim (60 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shia). Catholics represent about 10 percent, mostly foreign workers from Asian nations.

Bahrain became the first country in the Persian Gulf to build a Catholic church, the Sacred Heart Church, which will celebrate its 70th anniversary this year, since it was inaugurated with a Christmas Midnight Mass in 1939.

Relations between the Holy See and the Gulf kingdom saw significant progress in 2008. Not only did the Vatican receive the first ambassador from Bahrain, but King Hamad met Pope Benedict XVI as well. After the meeting on Jul 9 the sovereign issued an official communiqué inviting the Holy Father to visit the country.

When he heard that the Catholic community was going to get a new place of worship, Rev Hani Aziz of the National Evangelical Church said he hoped that the king could generously donate a plot of land to build a new Evangelical church as well. - AsiaNews

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