Syro Malabar Church in Qatar- An Overview
It is a matter of great privilege and honour to present a brief history of the Syro Malabar Church in Qatar as well as the movement leading to the fulfilment of a large Syro Malabar community in the Arabian Gulf country of Qatar. The illustrious example set by this community continues to inspire our faithful in other countries in the Arabian Gulf region.
Responding to the encouragement, guidance and assistance provided by the hierarchy of Syro Malabar Church, our community in Qatar accomplished their great dream of having a permanent church of their own for worship in our own tradition, heritage and liturgy. Among the many who served and led the community with their selfless services in gulf, we find a few prominent men who led the Syro Malabar Community in the fore-front, whose selfless and dedicated leadership was inevitable in the community building up activity.
Migration in search of means of life is common among humans; and as a community Syro Malabar faithful from Kerala are in the forefront of this movement. The uniqueness of our flock is the assiduous up keeping of the light of faith and tradition they have received from their parents; and the eagerness to practice the same and to bequeath these invaluable gifts to their new generation. Syro Malabar Catholics who thus reached the gulf countries began efforts to explore the possibilities to practice their faith at their place of residence in the gulf.
In the early days, arrangements were practically nil for Christians to pray together in Qatar. In spite of these limitations, our faithful used to congregate in small numbers to pray together and to keep alive their faith. This spirit gathered momentum leading to the visits of Catholic priests of British nationality, who did not require visa to arrive in Qatar, at the invitation of Catholics to celebrate Holy Mass in private premises/homes.
The seed laid by our people began to sprout in this desert; and the British priests took initiative with the local authorities for permission to offer their services to Catholic faithful. Later, by the middle of 1970s priests began to come from the Vicariate of Arabia in Abu Dhabi. Thus a Roman Catholic Mission under the Vicariate of Arabia came into existence in Qatar.
The number of Indians in these regions began to grow leading to a natural growth of Christian faithful including the Syro Malabar faithful. Catholic faithful utilized the limited services of the Roman Catholic Mission.
Changes across the world brought its movements to Qatar also with more facilities granted to Christian faithful over a period of time. Making use of this change, other Christian communities, mainly Indian Churches, began churches, at temporary rented premises, brought priests and began to function like de facto parishes. Of the several members of our community who served the Catholic Church during this period, Mr. Siby Joseph Vaniapurackal hailing from Changanacherry Archdiocese needs special mention. To recognize his services, he was bestowed with the title of Order of Silvester Papa (Cheviliar) by the Holy Father at the request of the then Vicar Apostolic of Arabia Bishop Bernard Gremoli OFM.
It was at this time (towards the end of 1990s) the Syro Malabar faithful began their efforts to request for pastoral care in our own rite, heritage and liturgy as per the provisions of the Canon Law of the Holy See. These requests were not received positively by the Roman Catholic Mission and the Vicariate of Arabia. However, the Syro Malabar faithful under the leadership of Dr. Mohan Thomas and Mr. Siby Joseph Vaniapurackal began their efforts to obtain pastoral services by approaching the hierarchy of Syro Malabar Church and obtaining permission from the local authorities to utilize a premise as St. Thomas Syro Malabar Church. This humble beginning has grown up into a very dedicated community of faithful.
The continuous strenuous efforts of the community with the active support and guidance of the hierarchy led to the growth of the community eventually leading to the appointment of an Adhoc Pastor for the community by Holy Father Pope John Paul II in March 2003. Dr. Mohan Thomas was asked by Vatican, thorough a letter sent by Secretary of State, to meet the Vicar Apostolic of Arabia in Qatar. The accord reached between the Vicar Apostolic of Arabia and Dr. Mohan Thomas led to the recognition of St. Thomas Syro Malabar Church by the Vicariate and a priest was appointed by the Vicariate for the Syro Malabar Community. Through this accord, the Vicariate allowed pastoral visits of Syro Malabar Bishops to Qatar (gulf region).
The efforts of Dr. Mohan Thomas with government of Qatar and Embassy of India in Qatar led to the recognition of Syro Malabar Church as part of Inter Denominational Christian Church (IDCC), a group of churches from India; and the Syro Malabar community received land and permission to build it own church.
The church built in Qatar is remarkable for its thematic design and aesthetic beauty. The meticulously planned consecration ceremony of our church on May 22, 2009 was another testimony to the leadership of this Syro Malabar Community. The consecration ceremony turned out to be a delight for eyes and ears of all who participated in the historic event.
To honour Dr. Mohan Thomas for the services rendered to Syro Malabar Church, Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI bestowed on him the Cheviliar title in 2010. This title was officially announced and presented during the third Major Archiepiscopal Assembly of Syro Malabar Church held at Mount St. Thomas in August 2010.
Church Construction & Consecration
The dedication of St. Thomas Church at Mesaimeer on May 22, 2009 is indeed a realization of the long cherished dreams of the Syro Malabar community in Qatar. The exquisite interior of the church, the Blessed Sacrament chapel for Perpetual Adoration and the ancillary facilities including St. Alphonsa Hall, Parsonage, office rooms and catechism class rooms reminds us greatest miracle of God who built for us in His Church in this vast tract of barren deserted land.
The land thankfully allocated by Government of Qatar to Inter Denominational Christian Churches (IDCC), a fellowship of Indian Christian Communities was distributed among its member churches according to the membership of each community. St. Thomas Church is built in the IDCC complex in an area of 770 Sq. Mts. The balcony within the church admeasures 365 Sq. Mts. A 50 Sq. Mts. chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is also arranged at the mezzanine floor. There is complete independence for our church in all its matters including access and administration.
The altar of the church is designed following the norms in oriental Catholic traditions. The center piece of the Madbaha is a St. Thomas Cross weighing 16 Tons carved in natural hard rock. The Blessed Sacrament chapel for Perpetual Adoration would remain as a sacred place of comfort, encouragement and solace for our faithful in their moments of spiritual needs. The necessity of the community for a multi-purpose hall to hold various activities is fulfilled by the St. Alphonsa Hall. The parsonage and other office rooms would offer comfortable environment for our priests and officials.
The foundation stone of the church was laid on December 9, 2005 by the late Major Archbishop Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil in the presence of the Vicar Apostolic of Arabia Bishop Paul Hinder. The Church is remarkable for its thematic design and aesthetic beauty. The dedication of this church was held on May 22, 2009 by Mar Varkey Vithayathil .
History will record May 22, 2009 as a monumental day of Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church. On this day, the first church our Rite in the Middle East was consecrated at Doha, the capital city of Qatar in the Arabian Gulf. Lakhs of Syro Malabar faithful residing in the Gulf Countries rejoiced on the occasion; and today they carry an earnest belief in their heart that similar facilities for their pastoral care in their own tradition and heritage would become effective in the near future in their own places in the gulf. ©