By Nayla Barakat
Manama, Dec. 9 (BNA): The state-of-the-Art, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia was inaugurated under the patronage of His Majesty the King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Awali.
The inaugural ceremony was attended by the Personal Representative of His Majesty the King, His Highness Shaikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa. The new Cathedral stretches within 9,000 square metres of land donated by His Majesty the King.
Attending the event were members of the Royal family, senior government officials, ambassadors, Dr. Shaikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence, reverend fathers, religious sisters and guests.
HH Shaikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Khalifa conveyed greetings from HM the King, stressing royal pride in opening the largest cathedral in the Arabian Gulf region.
He highlighted HM the King’s enlightened vision to foster rapprochement between religions and culture in line with Bahrain’s commitment to promoting dialogue between religions, cultures and civilisations.
He affirmed HM the King’s keenness on bolstering Bahrain’s standing as a civilised country and a pioneering beacon of tolerance between peoples and religions, which turned the Kingdom into a model of tolerance and coexistence.
He highlighted HM the King’s support to efforts aimed to foster human fraternity to ensure a better and more prosperous future for all human beings.
He reiterated Bahrain’s rejection of extremism, violence, hatred, bigotry, underlining the importance of strengthening bonds of cooperation, friendship between all countries and peoples on the basis of mutual respect.
He stressed Bahrain’s pride in its relations with the church for its pivotal role in spreading the culture of peace and love. He said that HM the King gifted a land covering 900 square metres to construct the cathedral, which reflects HM the King’s vision to protect liberties, promote diversity within unity, ethical and religious principles and values.
HH Shaikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa hailed the efforts of the Government, chaired by HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, to foster these values and principles between all social segments in Bahrain which embraces all religions and sects.
HH Shaikh Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa received on this occasion a commemorative gift from His Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Representative of Pope Francis.
The ceremony began with the national anthem of Bahrain by the Ministry of Interior band. HH Shaikh Abdullah lit a crystal ball with words like peace, faith, love, hope, mercy, wisdom and charity, to mark the occasion.
The Cathedral which is an outstanding sign of Bahrain’s religious harmony and tolerance has 2,200 seating capacity, two chapels with 80 seating capacity, 800 seating capacity auditorium and 8 confession rooms.
In his speech His Eminence Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Representative of Pope Francis, said he was deeply honoured to witness this historic event.
His Eminence conveyed the message of His Holiness Pope Francis of greetings of peace and solidarity to His Majesty the King on the inauguration of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia.
“The Holy Father and the Catholic community in the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia thank your Majesty the King for continuing the tradition of the Royal Family of its closeness and support to the Catholic Church down the years and especially for donating the land on which now stands this beautiful Cathedral.”
“Allow me here to recall with gratitude the work begun by the late Bishop Camillo Ballin, who was also the personal friend of His Majesty, for his efforts to initiate this project. I am grateful to Bishop Paul Hinder, who after the death of Bishop Ballin, accepted the additional responsibility as the Apostolic Administrator of the Vicariate of Northern Arabia and was instrumental in bringing this project to a successful conclusion.”
He expressed his gratitude for the contribution of the architecture and people who have collaborated in the planning and execution of this construction especially during the difficult time of the pandemic.
“This place will now be a house of God. It will also be a monument to the friendship and harmony that exists between the Catholic and Islamic people in the Kingdom of Bahrain. From this sacred place, prayers will be raised to Almighty God for the intentions of His Majesty the King and all the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain. From this sacred place too, hearts will be purified, fraternal love will be nurtured and service of the common good will be promoted.”
“May Almighty God continue to bless Your Majesty, the King, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, and the Royal Family with good health, peace and prosperity. May the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain always enjoy the gifts of harmony and peaceful coexistence.”
Dr. Shaikh Khalid said it was an historical day to inaugurate the Cathedral of our lady of Arabia. “It’s historic event because the last one was inaugurated some 81 years ago and we are very proud to have this place of worship for the Catholic community. There are around 80,000 worshippers that will be using the church here.”
“Historically speaking it’s not strange for Bahrain to support non- Muslims or people from other religions to worship here. Bahrain has freedom of practice of other religions and worship for over 200 years ago,” said Dr. Shaikh Khalid adding that, “The first such gesture of Kingdom of Bahrain was in 1819 were the ruler of Bahrain gave licence for a Hindu Temple and for over 100 years it was the only one and first in this area.”
He said: “It wasn’t surprising that in 1893 the American Mission representatives came to Bahrain, met with the then ruler the late Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa and asked him for permission to establish a church, a school and a hospital.”
“It took everyone for surprise because here was a Muslim ruler who supported and allowed preachers to come and preach the Christians. Such a gesture and support can hardly be found today but what about 125 or 200 years ago.”
He said that it was a light-hearted spirit that this ruler of Bahrain enjoyed that encouraged him to agree.
“Today, we are not surprised with this great gesture of His Majesty the King bestowed a land for this Cathedral and offered all the help possible in the construction and having the opening ceremony under his patronage.”
Dr Shaikh Khalid said he hoped that this church will be a beacon of light for many and it will send a message of hope and peace to other worship places in Bahrain. The opening of this church is proof that we have lived for centuries in Bahrain without any problems between sects, religions and racism. We are very proud to have the freedom of religion and worship.”
Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic in the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia and Apostolic Administrator of Northern Arabia said the opening of the Cathedral is a unique and historic event.
“First of all, to have such a big and new church in the midst of this island of Bahrain. The cathedral means the seat of the Bishop, who right now is vacant but there will again be an Apostolic Vicar for the North of Arabia in Bahrain. This will be the main church for the activities as a spiritual centre for the Catholics community in this Vicariate of Northern Arabia – this includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“We have around 80,000 Catholic community members here in Bahrain. For me, the opening of this cathedral is a situation I inherited and it’s a wonderful feeling because for me altogether I am witnessing the inauguration of the seventh church in this area.”
Bishop Hinder added that he was happy the vicariate of Northern Arabia has a wonderful centre .
“It’s a beautiful church in the living stones and we are happy to have such a wonderful and extraordinary building which is an architectural highlight in the Kingdom of Bahrain.”
Bahrain was traditionally on the Peninsula the most open country, he added.
"We have experienced that as Catholics other denominations have experienced the same and its surely thanks to the policies of the Royal family. Since the long time to give us this opportunity and we are grateful for that. “We wish to live with all in harmony with the Royal family and the people of Bahrain, the expats who constitute our people because there are very few citizens who are Catholic Christians.”
“As the world goes through tough times and we all are going through difficult times, it’s so important to have not only tolerance but also mutual respect and acceptance,” he said.
The opening of the cathedral is a clear reflection of openness that characterises the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The opening of the cathedral was warmly hailed by members of the Christian community in the Kingdom.
"Bahrain is the 'land of eternity' in the Epic of Gilgamesh; a beautiful land with diversity in beliefs," Elie Flouty, a media consultant, said.
"The opening of the cathedral is a strong affirmation of the values of peace and coexistence under the leadership of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa."
Shura Council Member Hala Ramzi said that the opening of the cathedral was "an important and joyful event."
"We extend our sincere gratitude to HM the King who promotes the values of religious tolerance and coexistence, peace, mutual respect between different peoples and civilizations," she said.
Bahrain is known as a country of religious pluralism and freedom that embraces all beliefs, she added.
"In the heart of the Capital Manama, you can find mosques and community centres beside churches and temples, where everyone is practising their religious rituals in harmony," she said.
"The love of the country and loyalty to the leadership has united the people who share the process of development and achievements in security and stability."
Tolerance and coexistence is Bahrain’s approach, as leadership, government and people. It is confirmed by the reform project of HM King Hamad that comprised unity, citizenship, and tolerance, she added.
"May God grant our beloved kingdom, leadership, government and people security, peace and love."
Desk editor at Al Bilad newspaper Labiba Joseph Fares, said that the patronage of HM the King for the opening of the cathedral reflects tolerance that the Kingdom celebrates which it is exceptionally unique for.
In a statement to Bahrain News Agency (BNA) she added that HM the King, following the approach of his ancestors who were devoted to promote the culture of coexistence and acceptance, has made Bahrain a model for equality and love.
She explained that as a Christian, she has lived in Bahrain for 15 years, and has been practising her religious rites with freedom and respect. She stressed that the people of Bahrain are respectful, kind and hospitable.
Labiba concluded by expressing her appreciation to HM the King and to the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa for their policies that benefit both citizens and residents, wishing HM the King a healthy long life.