Vatican Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle consecrated on Friday the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia in Bahrain, describing it as “a living sign of God’s care for his flock.”
The prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples celebrated a live-streamed Mass in the ark-shaped cathedral on Dec. 10, the day after it was inaugurated by Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the King of Bahrain, who gave the land as a gift to the Catholic community.
“My dear brothers and sisters, we praise God for the gift of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia. It is a living sign of God’s care for his flock,” the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said.
“The Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the Catholic community in Bahrain thank His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa for maintaining the tradition of the royal family of support to the Catholic Church and for donating the land on which now stands the cathedral.”
The consecration was the end of a journey that began on Feb. 11, 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, when the decision to build the cathedral was taken.
Bishop Camillo Ballin, the then Vicar Apostolic of Northern Arabia, decided that the cathedral should be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia.
The cathedral is part of a complex of around 95,000 square feet in Awali, a small municipality in the center of the country, which is located to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar. The church is close to a desert oil field.
There are an estimated 80,000 Catholics in Bahrain, many of whom are migrants from Asia, particularly the Philippines and India.
Bishop Ballin died in April 2020, at the age of 75, before he could see his dream of a cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia realized in Bahrain.
Tagle, a 64-year-old cardinal from the Philippines, paid tribute to the late Italian bishop in his homily, as well as to Bishop Paul Hinder, Vicar Apostolic of Southern Arabia, who was present at the Mass.
Tagle said: “We remember with gratitude the late Bishop Camillo Ballin who initiated this project, now brought to a successful conclusion by Bishop Paul Hinder, to whom we are also grateful.”
“We acknowledge the work of the project team, the architects, the constructors, artists, and many benefactors. May God bless and reward you a hundredfold. The dedication of a church signifies that the church, the building, is now reserved for sacred activities, for the glory of God and the sanctification of God’s people.”
“For this reason, a church is usually called ‘the House of God,’ and therefore, the house of God’s family. The house of God and the house of God’s family... Here, family of God, please come home often to this church to meet and converse, talk with, our merciful Father. Come home here often.”
A focal point of the cathedral, the largest in the Gulf region, will be a striking polychrome statue of Our Lady of Arabia.
The title of Our Lady of Arabia was approved in 1948. A small chapel in Ahmadi, Kuwait, was dedicated to the title on Dec. 8 of that year.
In 1957, Pius XII issued a decree proclaiming Our Lady of Arabia the main patron saint of the territory and of the Apostolic Vicariate of Kuwait.
In 2011, the Vatican officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia the patron saint of the vicariates of Kuwait and Arabia.
Later that year, the Holy See reorganized the Vicariate of Kuwait, giving it the new name of Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
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Bishop Ballin’s episcopal see therefore moved from Kuwait to Bahrain, for logistical but also practical reasons, as Bahrain has a significant Christian presence, estimated to be around 15% of the population.
The King of Bahrain’s special envoy, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, had an audience with Pope Francis on Nov. 25. According to Agenzia Fides, the envoy invited the pope to visit the country, which has a population of 1.7 million people.
Concluding his homily, Tagle said: “With the dedication of the cathedral, we also dedicate each one of you, your families, and the community, to the life and service of Jesus Christ.”
“May our blessed Mother, Mary, Our Lady of Arabia, who is the model disciple of her Son, Jesus, keep your hearts in her Immaculate Heart. May the living stones of the Catholic community contribute to the strengthening of solidarity, unity, and fraternity in Bahrain.”
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