LONDON: Bahrain inaugurated the largest Catholic cathedral in the Gulf, in a ceremony attended by members of the country’s government, a papal delegation from the Vatican and Bahraini Christians.

Construction of the Notre-Dame d’Arabie Cathedral began in 2014 with the laying of a foundation stone donated by Pope Francis.

Located about 24 km from Manama, the capital of Bahrain, the cathedral can accommodate 2,300 worshipers.

Bahrain prides itself on its religious plurality and has a long history of providing places of worship for Christians and non-Christians and the freedom to practice their religion openly and freely.

“We are very proud to have this place of worship for the Catholic community. There are around 80,000 devotees who will use the church, ”said Dr Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the King Hamad World Center for Peaceful Coexistence, at the opening ceremony of the cathedral on Thursday.

“Historically speaking, it’s not strange that Bahrain encourages non-Muslims or people of other faiths to worship here. Bahrain has had the freedom to practice other religions and cults for over 200 years. He cited the existence of a Hindu temple built in 1819.

Hala Ramzi Fayez, Christian and member of the Shura Council in the Parliament of Bahrain, told Arab News: “In our country, people of all religions and beliefs live in peace, practicing their religious rites freely and in safety.

She added, “In the heart of Manama… you find the church and the temple next to the mosque and the ma’atam, in coexistence and harmony, for hundreds of years.

Christians make up about 15 percent of Bahrain’s population. The religion has a long history in the country, with the first recorded community dating back to the 12th century.

While the majority of Christians currently living in Bahrain are foreign expatriates, there are approximately 1,000 native Bahraini Christians, many of whom have roots in the country for centuries.

Reverend Father Xavier D’Souza, priest of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Manama, told Arab News that the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia “is a symbol and a sign of hope in the Middle East and a testimony to peaceful coexistence in this part of the world. . ”

He added: “On a practical level, it offers another convenient place of worship for those residing in this part of the island and the Catholic community in Saudi Arabia, who can simply cross the causeway on weekends and participate in the services.

D’Souza said the opening of the cathedral represents “a very positive and optimistic vision for the future of Gulf Christians.”