DOHA, Qatar, The government of Qatar authorized the construction of churches in the country, something unprecedented in this Arab Gulf state.
"The Ministry of Municipal Affairs wishes to conclude long-term rental contracts for symbolic amounts with those involved in the construction of churches," said a government representative, who asked for anonymity, in statements to Agence France-Presse.
According to the official, this decision is part of "Qatar's conviction in favor of freedom of worship."
Last Nov. 18, the Vatican and Qatar announced the establishment of official diplomatic relations. ZENIT learned that that agreement already reflected the Qatari government's willingness to put a plot or plots of land at the disposition of the Church for the construction of churches.
The Qatari government's announcement implies that, thanks to the agreement with the Vatican, Qatar will respect the religious freedom of the other Christian communities living in the country.
Situated in the Arabian peninsula, Qatar is a neighbor of Saudi Arabia. Its population of about 800,000 is made up in the majority of Bedouin Arabs, as well as immigrant laborers from nearby Arab states and from Iran, Pakistan, India and the Philippines.
Although Islam is the majority religion, there are 45,000 Catholic immigrants in Qatar, above all from the Philippines and India. There are also some 10,000 Orthodox, the great majority being foreigners.
Qatar, which presides over the Islamic Conference Organization, is preparing for a conference in Doha on interreligious dialogue, to be held