.- Jose Luis Orella, professor of history and thought at St. Paul’s University in Madrid, said this week the number of Catholics in Saudi Arabia, where the Christian faith is outlawed, has quadrupled from 200,000 in 1974 to 800,000 today.
“Saudi Arabia, as protector of the holy Islamic sites, and under the strict interpretation of ‘wahhabism,’ completely prohibits any type of Christian expression or symbols in the country,” the professor said.
Speaking to Europa Press, Orella said the more than three million Christians that live in the Arabian Peninsula are of one hundred different nationalities, although most are from the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt.
In to order to repress Catholic worship, the government makes use of a special police force, the “mutawa,” “the real terror of immigrants, whom they cruelly harass,” Orella stated. “Any book or object that can be classified as Christian is confiscated and thrown into the trash, and the ‘aggressor’ is incarcerated.”
Priests must operate in secret, he continued, by posing on paper as employees of the numerous companies that are based in Saudi Arabia, and Masses are celebrated either in diplomatic or in clandestine areas.
According to Amnesty International, 329 Christians were detained for different reasons between 1990 and 1993. In 1995 a man named Donato Lama was arrested for spreading the Christian faith and was sentenced to 70 lashes and 18 months in prison, after which he was deported to the Philippines. In 1984, two other Filipinos, Ruel Janda and Amel Beltran, were beheaded. More recently, in April of 2005, forty Pakistanis were detained for attending a clandestine Mass in an apartment.
Nevertheless, Orella called Saudi Arabia “the exception” among Arab countries, as both the head of the United Arab Emirates, the emir of Qatar, the King of Bahrain and the Sultan of Oman “have established good relations with the Vatican, and in the last years of the 20th century, they have established diplomatic relations as well.”
“The Catholic Church has a vicariate for Arabia, which includes all of the countries of the peninsula, in order to organize in the best way possible the spiritual help that Christians who have recently settled there need. The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, is where the vicariate is headquartered and where a half-dozen churches have been built, as in Oman, where four churches have been built, and another in Bahrain,” Orella said.