DOHA, Qatar — Thousands of worshipers gathered Saturday for the consecration of Qatar's first Christian church, ending decades of underground worship in this Sunni Muslim and deeply conservative Persian Gulf nation.
Cardinal Ivan Diaz, envoy to Pope Benedict XVI, presented the new Roman Catholic parish of Our Lady of the Rosary with a chalice offered by the pope. Many congregants wept when a relic of St. Padre Pio da Pietrelcina was dedicated in the five-hour Mass.
Three dozen bishops and priests gathered to celebrate the Mass, which was conducted in English with prayers in the Tagalog language from the Philippines, Hindi, Arabic and other languages.
"It is a wonderful day for us, we have been waiting for many, many years to have a proper place of worship," said Indian resident Robert Rodriguez, one of the estimated 10,000 people who gathered for the ceremony.
Only 3,000 worshipers could fit inside the packed dome building, leaving thousands more to gather outside the doors.
Nearby, five more churches are under construction for other Christian denominations in this oil-rich state, where expatriate workers make up more than 70 percent of the population.
The 2,700-seat church was built on land donated by Qatar's emir, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Out of respect for local sensitivities, the exterior does not feature any religious symbols that identify the building as a place of Christian worship.