Lifestyle & Belief

Geo Quiz + geo answer

For today's Geo Quiz -- we're looking for an Arab emirate. This sandy desert peninsula looks out on the Persian Gulf.

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It's an oil rich nation and it's the one that launched Al Jazeera. About a third of its one million residents practice a conservative form of Islam -- like the country's neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia forbids any house of worship that isn't a mosque.

But the country we're after has shown a more moderate approach. Its emir granted the Catholic Church land in the desert outside the capital, Doha to build a church.

It's the first church to open here since the arrival of Islam more than a thousand years ago.

We'll pay a visit to the Islamic nation's new Christian house of worship, but first try and name this country at the edge of the Persian Gulf.

For our Geo Quiz today, we were looking for a rich Persian Gulf country with a new church.

The answer is Qatar.

It's a country that practices the same conservative form of Islam that Saudi Arabia does. But Qataris make up only a third of the country's population. The rest include ex-pats and migrant workers, many of whom are Catholic. Qatar's emir gave the Catholic Church land for a new 15-million dollar church. Ben Gilbert recently visited the church, and sent this report.

The church, called "Our Lady of the Rosary," is literally in the middle of the desert. It's a fifteen minute drive from Qatar's capital, Doha. At first glance, it looks something like a large flying saucer rising from the dusty landscape. There are no crosses or bells to avoid offending Muslims. But open a door to the main building at just about any time of the day, and this is what you'll hear...

This is the English language mass, at seven pm. There are fifty services a week here -- in a dozen languages to serve the estimated 150,000 Catholics in Qatar. Father Tom Veneracion is the Parish Priest, originally from the Philippines. It's a busy Friday here?

"HIM: This the cataclysm building, 42 classrooms, 2000 kids coming for Sunday school.

ME: SUNDAY SCHOOL IS ON FRIDAY?

HIM: Thursday Friday and Saturday, but still we call it Sunday school.

He says Sunday services are held on Friday, the Islamic rest day, because that's when everyone is off work. Qatar is undergoing a building boom, fueled by high oil and gas prices. The country has imported more than half a million workers from around the world to do everything from running huge companies to cleaning houses. And many of them are Christian. Qatar's constitution allows for freedom of religious worship - and the government officially licensed the roman.

Catholic Church TO OPEN CHURCHES HERE six years ago. Veneracion says by building the first CHRISTIAN church in the country since the advent of Islam in the 8th century, Qatar is making a statement.

"It's a part of reaching out to world, we are a force to reckon with, even though we are a small country, our economy is booming, and we might as well open u p to world, and accept there are other religions...except Islam.."

Just as they get their mosques in Europe, even near the Vatican, in the US, just right that we have churches here in this part of the world.

At a recent mass AT THE CHURCH, Kenyans bankers worshipped alongside Philipino waiters AND American teachers. FREDERIC GONZALES IS A Costan Rican pilot for Qatar Airways. His son was baptized HERE earlier this year.

"Being in Muslim country and be able to participate in a mass, very nice, very interesting, it's different...kind of weird...but very nice...

Me: WHY WEIRD?

Being in the middle of a Muslim country, with all situations in the world right now, political and religious, that you are able to come to mass free, relax without being afraid of anything, it's very nice. As I said, it's weird."

Weird for some Qataris, as well. There was some local objection to the church before it opened in March. One Qatari newspaper editorial said Islam should not share space with other religions. There were also a few threats against the church the day before the opening ceremony. Former Qatari justice minister Najeeb Mohammed Al Nai3eemi says he supports the church, but he feels like the emir forced it on Qatari's.

"Well, I have objected, personally, objected to have church without consent of the people. If the people will grant the consent of the church, then its ok, but this came from the sky Reason why emir did this is for political reasons, satisfying a lot of lobbies in America, Germany, Europe, it is very appealing that this government allowing so many religions to practice...it's lobbying..."

Father Veneracion says he's aware of the criticisms, and the church keeps a low profile. First and foremost, he says, church officials are not trying to win any converts in Qatar...something that would make the locals uneasy.

"We are just serving our people. We never try to attract anyone to come. It's only our people. So there is no cause for alarm. Because we are aware of that."

This Catholic Church is just the beginning. Nearby, the Qatari government HAS staked out ground for an Eastern Orthodox, AN Anglican and AN interdenominational church. Father Veneracion says providing people with a place to worship not only helps them work harder - It also makes Qatar look good to the outside world. and that's especially desirable at a time when the country is becoming a regional powerbroker, and is vying for the 2016 Olympic Games.

For the World, I'm Ben Gilbert, Doha, Qatar

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