VATICAN CITY: A new Catholic cathedral in Bahrain, Our Lady of Arabia, will be consecrated on Dec. 10 by the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
The ark-shaped structure, which seats 2,300 people, will be the largest Catholic cathedral in the Gulf region.
It was built on a plot of land that was given eight years ago to the church by Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, who has been king of Bahrain since 2002. The king will inaugurate the cathedral on Dec. 9.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only a small number of people will be allowed to attend the inaugural ceremony and consecration.
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 has a population of 1.7 million people.
Aside from the cathedral, the palm tree-lined complex features a multipurpose building, a courtyard, and a two-story parking area.
The cathedral’s altar, baptistery, pews and other furnishings are crafted in Italy.
The cathedral is topped with an octagonal dome, a deeply symbolic geometric detail that can be seen in a number of churches around the world such as the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, and Germany’s Aachen Cathedral.
King Hamad personally presented a detailed three-foot-long model of the cathedral to Pope Francis in 2014.
In 2011, the Vatican officially proclaimed Our Lady of Arabia as the Catholic 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 the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, and including the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
The inauguration of the cathedral follows King Hamad’s official invitation to the pope to visit Bahrain.
Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa, the king’s adviser for diplomatic affairs, personally delivered the invitation when he met Pope Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin on Nov. 25.
Vatican statistics estimate that there are nearly 80,000 Catholics living in Bahrain, mostly from the Philippines and India.