When Father Charbel Mhanna was posted to the Arab nation of Qatar nine years ago, he didn’t know much of what was in the offing for him.
The Lebanese cleric had packed his bag and baggage to continue the mission of the Roman Catholic in far away Qatar. All the cleric wanted was to win souls and continue propagating the gospel of the Lord anywhere he finds himself.
Qatar is predominantly a Muslim country but they still give room for non-Muslims to do practice their religion in the country as long as it conforms with the laid down rules , regulations and restrictions of the country.
Christianity is being practiced as a unit that operates under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the country..
In an interview in Arabic with ACI Mena, CNA’s news partner in the Middle East, Fr. Mhanna shares his experience as a Christian cleric living in Qatar.
Father Mhanna ministers to Maronite Catholics living in Qatar as well as Italian and French-speaking communities at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Doha.
The Christian community in Qatar is about 300,000 thousand persons comprising mainly of foreigners living or working in the oil-rich country. They are mostly Italians, Spanish, Greeks, Philipinnos etc and they have to practice their own religion.
According to Fr. Mhanna, churches are considered embassies” that deal with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the country, explained that there are no bells or crosses on church buildings in Qatar.
Religious processions are only allowed to take place within the walls of the Qatar Religious Complex, a complex opened in 2008 that holds six different churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Syrian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and an interdenominational group for Indian expatriate Christian communities.
“Copies of the Bible can [only] be distributed inside the church complex campus,” Mhanna said.
“We give eucharistic Communion to patients in hospitals without any problem and we can pray in cemeteries, as there are tombs for non-Muslims,” he said.
“We also have every liberty to preach. No one ever interfered with my sermons. We recite our spiritual words without restrictions,” he added.
Fr. Mhanna noted that conduct of marriage is a peculiar case, noting that the priest is only allowed to celebrate a wedding between two Christians. He said: “If a Christian wants to marry a Muslim, they cannot get married in our church. We usually invite them to marry in another country.”
According to the vicariate, employment and camp rules can make participation in Catholic liturgies impossible for some of these
The Catholic community also struggles with restrictions on the number of priests allowed in the country and the limited capacity of its church inside the religious complex.
Mhanna is currently overseeing the construction of a new Catholic church in Qatar — a Maronite Catholic church that will have a capacity of 1,500 people.
“Qatar provided land on which we can build today a church in the name of St. Charbel,” he said.
Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite Catholic patriarch, laid the foundation stone for the church in 2018 at the invitation of Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
“The church is in the process of being finished,” Mhanna said.
However, Fr.Mhanna was given the opportunity to enter the Stadium during the opening ceremony as a cleric robed in White, he attended with other Christian clerics operating from the religious complex in Qatar but they must maintain their Ministry of foreign affairs status.
Femi Fabunmi with additional info from CNA