Beda Robles’s seven-year quest for permission to construct a proper place of worship for the Evangelical Churches Alliance Qatar (ECAQ) ended with a phone call late last month from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“He said ‘I have good news,’ and I just knew. All our years of praying and hoping had come to fruition,” said Robles, a 59-year-old Filipino expat who is the chairman and a founding member of ECAQ.
The new place of worship will be several kilometers outside of central Doha in Mesaimeer’s religious complex, next to the Catholic Church Of Our Lady Of Rosary.
ECAQ has approximately 1,200 members who hail primarily from the Philippines, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Indonesia and Malaysia. The 28-year-old organization has historically held worship sessions in villas and other private homes.
It secured a lease contract for the land in 2013, but had to wait for official government approval before it could start raising money for the QR100 million (US$27.47 million) church.
“We are so grateful for the help of the Emir and the Father Emir for making this happen,” said Robles, adding that the former Philippines ambassador to Qatar, Crescente Relacion, also played an instrumental role.
“They have supported us throughout,” he said. “The government has been very supportive in providing us permissions to hold worship sessions, meetings and other celebrations like our Family Days over the years.”
Qatar is generally tolerant of non-Muslim religious groups and rarely interferes with their worship activities, according to the US State Department’s most recent report on religious freedoms.
“With the high-level dialogue between church leaders and (the) government, things are going on very well,” Asim Koldzo, an Oxford graduate student researching interfaith issues, told Doha News in 2012.
Qatar’s first church since pre-Islamic times opened in 2008. According to the US report, the country has granted legal status to the Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Lebanese Maronite, Filipino Evangelical and Indian Christian churches.
Smaller Christian groups are required to worship under the patronage of one of the eight recognized denominations.
Qatar’s Constitution and other laws recognize the Abrahamic faiths – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – but do not acknowledge other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
Koldzo said Hindus have been excluded from interfaith initiatives in the past due to social and economic reasons, as many Hindus work in lower-paid professions in Qatar.
Robles said he hopes the new church will be completed within the next three years. The two-story complex will have 24 worship halls and 24 rooms, catering to the different prayer groups under the church.
Once completed, the building will cover some 15,000 square meters of floor area with the capacity to accommodate 6,000 people.
Now that the organization has its commercial registration, it can start filing work visa applications to hire administrative staff, as well as begin soliciting donations.
“We have a small amount collected now, and we’re hoping to get a start on the ground-breaking with that. As for the other money, we’re going to have huge fundraising efforts to bring in donations, and we’re also asking help from other churches in Doha, in the region, and around the world,” he said.