The Catholic Church in Bahrain, a small island country situated near the western shores of the Persian Gulf, is preparing for the construction of a new cathedral thanks to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, who has given land for what will be the largest parish in the Arab peninsula.
The King of Bahrain met with Pope Francis in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace recently, and gave him a 3-foot long model of the cathedral, according to Rome Reports.
The two talked about peace and stability in the Middle East as well as the contribution of Christians in the country, which make up about 10 percent of the population.
Bahrain-based Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia, Camillo Ballin, whose vicariate stretches from Kuwait to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, is grateful to the king. "The king has a special appreciation for the Catholic Church. We are the only church of which the king has given land," he told Real Clear Religion.
"On behalf of the migrant workers, the children and families and my fellow religious who today serve in Northern Arabia, I appeal to you to join with us to help build the first Catholic cathedral in Awali, Bahrain in Northern Arabia," Ballin says in a plea posted on the website of the Church in Need.
The cathedral will serve about 2.5 million Catholics in the Northern Arabian Peninsula.
More than 60 percent of the people in Bahrain are Shia, and over 30 percent are Sunni. There have been tensions between the two Muslim communities. However, Bahrain is known as one of the most tolerant nations towards religious minorities in the region, and where several Christian denominations are officially recognized, including the National Evangelical Church in Bahrain.
The people of Bahrain "are used to other religions," Bishop Ballin added.
Although Ballin has lived in Bahrain for only about a year, King Hamad has given him a Bahraini passport.
When the bishop went to collect his passport, the king was there to personally present it to him.
However, the king has faced opposition for his move to allow the construction of a new cathedral.
In 2012, more than 70 clerics signed a petition against it.
"Anyone who believes that a church is a true place of worship is someone who has broken in their faith in God," said Sheik Adel Hassan al-Hamad, a prominent cleric, in a sermon during Friday prayers at the time, according to The Associated Press.
The government of Bahrain transferred al-Hamad out of his mosque in Riffa district, but had to revoke the order later due to protests by Sunni-led political blocs.