09/09/2019, 19.00
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Muslim authorities and a thousand faithful at the inauguration of a new church

The first brick was laid on 16 February 2018. The structure has a seating capacity of 600 and a multi-purpose hall. Vicar of Arabia thanked those who worked on the project. For the Apostolic Nuncio, the church represents a sign of hope. Omani minister expressed his profound happiness for the shared celebration.

Muscat (AsiaNews) – Over the weekend a thousand Catholics attended the inauguration of the new St Francis Xavier Church in Salalah, Sultanate of Oman, about 10 minutes drive from the city centre.

The first brick was laid on 16 February 2018 with construction completed in less than a year and a half. The building has a seating capacity of 600, a balcony over the main altar and a multipurpose hall, for a total capacity of a thousand.

Christian and Muslim dignitaries and clerics were present at the first function on Saturday, including Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Francisco Padilla, the Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen) Bishop Paul Hinder, and Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs director Ahmed Khamis Masood Al Bahri.

Archbishop Padilla thanked Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said for granting the building permits. “May this new Church be a sign of hope for all of us, a sign that God always walks at our side in good and bad times, even if our prayers are not answered instantly,” he said.

In his address, Bishop Hinder acknowledged all those who worked on the project on land granted by Sultan Qaboos bin Said in 1979. In 1981 an ecumenical centre was opened in the same place by Bishop Gremoli, Hinder’s predecessor.

The prelate thanked the government for their support and cooperation and offered prayers for the welfare of the monarch and the country.

Greeting the new community, the new parish priest, Fr Antony Puthenpurackal expressed gratitude for the opening of the new church, which represents a milestone in the history of Salalah Catholics.

Speaking on behalf of Omani authorities, Minister Al Bahri said that it was a “pleasure" to attend the opening of the place of worship and that he was very happy to share this moment of celebration with Catholics. He welcomed good priests who will lead new generations.

Oman is a model among Gulf states, both in the fight against terrorism and in terms of religious freedom. In the socially conservative nation, people are struggling to defend traditional values ​​and practices whilst seeking equal gender rights. State interference in people's lives is limited, unlike Saudi Arabia.

Local Catholics are mostly expatriates and migrant workers and number around 55,000, or 2 per cent of the population. Overall, Christians are around 6.5 per cent, Hindus 5.5 per cent; but the vast majority, around 75 per cent, is Muslim.

The local Church has four parishes with seven priests: St Anthony of Padua in Sohar, Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Ruwi, Holy Spirit in Muscat and St Francis Xavier in Salalah.

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