The Catholic Church in Qatar: a migrant people

The Catholic Church in Qatar: a migrant people November 24, 2022

The Catholic Church in Qatar is composed of about 200,000 lay faithful who hail from a long list of nations, but mostly from the Philippines and India.  Catholics living in Qatar are exclusively migrants, and about 80% belong to the Latin Rite, in other words, they are Roman Catholic.  The remaining 20% belong to the other rites of the Catholic Church including the Maronite (Lebanon) and Syro-Malabar (India) Churches.

The one parish church in Doha, Our Lady of the Rosary, was dedicated in 2009 in an area of Doha designated by the government for the construction of Christian churches.  Our Lady of the Rosary is the first Catholic Church built in the area since the 7th century Muslim conquest of the Arabian Peninsula.  It is important to note that Christianity was already present in the Arabian Peninsula long before the rise of Mohammad.  Christianity in Arabia however was outside the confines of both Rome and Constantinople, so there was quite a diversity of Christian belief.  Those who did not conform to what either Rome or Constantinople taught could find refuge in Arabia.

Our Lady of the Rosary Parish holds about 5,000 people and it is not big enough to handle the number of faithful who attend Mass.  Its website states, “restriction on the number of priests, too few churches and limited space in the churches are difficulties that we face, especially when Mass attendance is very high, around 25,000 on Fridays with 10 and more Masses.  Other problems such as distance from the church, employment and camp rules also make participation for many impossible.  It is also forbidden to engage in any public activity or display of religion, including proselytizing.”

A quick review of the Mass schedule online reveals that the principal day at the parish is Friday, the holy day in Muslim countries, and not Sunday.  There are currently sixteen Masses celebrated on Friday in the following languages: English, Konkani, Tagalog, Sinhala, Arabic, Korean, Indonesian, Malayalam, Urdu and Tamil.  On Saturday, Masses are offered in Italian, French and Spanish too.  The first daily Mass is offered at 5:30am, likely for the thousands of Catholic laborers in Qatar who always have an early start to the day.  The seven priests who serve the parish are as diverse as the parishioners.

In comparison to Saudi Arabia where Christianity is banned and there are no Catholic Churches, Christians in Qatar do enjoy the ability to gather for worship.  The parish website states, “due to the laws in Islamic Qatar, the church displays no Christian symbols like crosses, bells, or a steeple on its exterior.”  This is common in Islamic countries that do allow the construction of Christian churches, including Turkey.  It was not until 1995 that the Emir of Qatar granted freedom of worship, and allowed the entry of Catholic priests to Qatar.  Until 2009, Catholics gathered in homes for the celebration of Mass.  Currently, Catholic priests enter Saudi Arabia usually as employees of Western embassies and minister exclusively inside the confines of the embassies.

Qatar is under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia which also includes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.  The parish website notes that the opening of the parish in 2009 was hailed as “an event of historical importance after 14 centuries.”  At its dedication, the consecrating Cardinal thanked “God and Qatar for this gift of the church.”  The parish website also recognizes that Qatar established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 2003 and that the current Emir supports religious tolerance and inter-religious dialogue while keeping a firm eye on Islamic law.

As many criticize Qatar these days while the World Cup is played in Doha, the issue of the treatment of workers is close to the heart of the Catholic Church since a substantial number of the workers are Catholic.  It would be interesting to hear the perspective of the priests who minister to the vast migrant Catholic Church of Qatar.  I imagine that they will choose to remain fairly quiet in order to maintain good relations with the state.

May Our Lady of Arabia, Patroness of the Vicariate of Northern Arabia, pray for all Christians in the lands under her patronage.

O Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Arabia and our Patroness! To you we offer up our prayers for the needs of the Church here and throughout the world. Help us to remain one with your Son Jesus and united amongst ourselves, so that we may be true witnesses for Christ in our daily lives and that the Lord’s blessings of peace and harmony be within our families and communities always. Trusting in your maternal intercession, we beseech you to hear our humble prayers and grant us the graces we seek… so that we may give glory to God forever. Amen.

Picture from Facebook Page of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Qatar.


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