In the Gulf
The first Christian church in Qatr has opened in quiet circumstances. "And when 5,000 faithful flock to Our Lady of the Rosary to celebrate its historic consecration this weekend, they pray no one will notice.
Father Tom Veneracion, the parish priest, is worried about a backlash. "The idea is to be discreet because we don't want to inflame any sensitivities," he says. "There isn't even a signboard outside the church. No signs at all."
Kudos to Qatr, which has courageously agreed to let the church be built. That may not sound like much, but in this world it is. Abdul Hamid al-Ansari, the former dean of the Islamic law school at Qatar University wrote that "having places of worship for various religions is a fundamental human right guaranteed by Islam."
Tom Veneracion is a Filipino Catholic priest. That was an easy one to predict. They say demographics is everything and in this case numbers probably played a large part in Qatars decision to tolerate a Christian church. In 2004 there were close to 60,000 Filipinos living in Qatar, nearly a third of the estimated 200,000 natives. How do you deny such large numbers the right worship?
As this site has pointed out, one of the most ignored aspects of today's Middle East are the vast numbers of Third World Christians who work in it under conditions approaching slavery. Qatar is one of the best countries in the region to work. It is almost in another universe from Saudi Arabia.
The Our Lady of the Rosary church was built in part by fund-raising among poor people. One fundraisers must have been truly remarkable, with Celine Dion, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston and Shania Twain turning up in the audience to watch Filipina singer Judi Estrada raise funds for the church.
The leadership of the Rowan Williamses is being quietly assumed by people we've never heard of. And would it not be remarkable if, when the story of first conflict-ridden years of the 21st century are written we should belatedly discover the role played by Chaldean Archbishops and Filipina housemaids? That wouldn't be surprising to the carpenter from Galilee. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright might do well to remember that there is more to this world than color or hate.
Some day, after we have mastered the wind,
the waves, the tides, and gravity,
We shall harness for God the energies of Love.
Then, for the second time in the history of the world,
we will have discovered fire.
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