...Thousands of worshipers gathered Saturday for the consecration of Qatar's first Christian church, ending decades of underground worship in this Sunni Muslim and deeply conservative Persian Gulf nation.
Three dozen bishops and priests gathered to celebrate the mass, which was conducted in English with prayers in the Tagalog language from the Philippines, Hindi, Arabic and other languages.
Qatar follows the rigorous Wahhabi teachings of Sunni Islam, and like neighboring Saudi Arabia had not previously authorized Christians to practice their faith openly. A Catholic priest had operated in Qatar without official approval since the 1960s.
Imagine the sound of a congregation so long denied the simplest of priviledges we take so for granted here in Canada, now granted the reality they had been waiting for, praying for... decades of hope, now seen fulfilled.
What must their singing be like, on this Palm Sunday..?
I imagine that we would hear words and lyrics in many languages that may defy our understanding, yet behind the words would soar a language of the heart that any human being in love with freedom must find exhilirating to listen to, the most glorious of any music.
I imagine that through their singing we would rediscover what it truly means to have Faith, to live in Hope, to believe in Renewal. And to see a way to Peace.
Ten years ago it was probably "unreasonable" to dare imagine that a Passion Sunday service would ever be held in Qatar. Five years ago it might have been Faith without reason to continue to believe Easter may one day be celebrated so publicly as it will be next weekend in Qatar. Today, the simple songs of humble parishioners assembled in Doha reveal how helpful it remains to live through both Faith **and** Reason, how both attributes may serve to compliment the other, as essential halves to one whole. These attributes need not be seen as adversarial to each other, despite the natural conflict which may arise from their differences; these differences should be embraced, and celebrated, as the blessed gifts that they are. For as one weakens, the other persists, each balancing the other in turn, as required. A lesson in maintaining balance as simple, yet as challenging, as learning how to walk.
And if we should ever forget the lesson, all we need do is listen to the sound of the singing parishioners of Doha.
As if this were not miracle enough, the French Christian newspaper La Croix reports on reasons to have faith that this one, new church may be but the tip of the iceberg: there are apparently negotiations underway between the Vatican and "authorities" in Riyadh for the construction of Catholic churches in, of all places, Saudi Arabia..!
Translated from a story published in the online version of the paper on Saturday:
"Discussions are ongoing with Saudi Arabia for authorizing the construction of churches within the kingdom", said [Mounjed Al-Hachem, the Vatican's representative in the Gulf region], during his participation Friday in Doha, at the inaguration of the first church in Qatar.
"We can not predict the results" coming out of these discussions, he added, bringing to mind king Abdallah's visit to the Vatican in November 2007, the first visit of a saudi sovereign.
Bishop Hachem has elsewhere revealed that Gulf leaders had "raised the idea of a papal visit to the region", citing the king of Bahrain, sheik Hamad Ben Issa Al-Khalifa, and the Qatari energy minister Abdallah Ben Hamad Al-Thani.
"In my capacity as ambassador, I will deliver these wishes and it is up to the Pope to decide", he concluded.