.- Despite threats from Islamic radicals, thousands of Christians on Saturday took part in the first Mass to be held at the Muslim nation of Qatar’s only church, Agence France Presse reports.
Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Evangelization of the Peoples and the envoy sent by the Vatican, presided over the Mass, which was attended by around 15,000 worshippers. Cardinal Dias thanked “God and Qatar for this great gift.”
The Roman Catholic church, named Our Lady of the Rosary, accommodates around 5,000 worshippers. The $20 million building has no bell or crosses on its exterior, similar to other nondescript churches in some Muslim states. It is the first of five churches to be built in Qatar.
Catholics began arriving at the church early on Saturday morning. Big screens were erected on the church grounds so that those outside could follow the consecration rite.
The Mass was conducted in English, but prayers were also said in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Tagalog, Spanish, and French for the many nationalities of the worshippers.
Western embassies had counseled vigilance after Islamic militants on the Internet made threats related to the opening of the church. "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," said a warning from the U.S. embassy.
Dozens of police were deployed around the church, with female officers searching the handbags of women congregants.
Filipino Catholic Shato Mawude told Agence France Presse he was not concerned by the threats.
"It is a day without precedent. I am very happy. The threats were made but I didn't pay them much attention. I trust the country's authorities," Mawude said.
Filipina Ariel Almyede told AFP, "This church is a sign of a possible dialogue between the different faiths."
Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister, said the opening of the church sent a “positive message” to the world.
"At the moment we are enjoying the construction of mosques and Islamic centers in the West,” he said, “so we must be fair” toward Christians in the region and allow them places of worship.