Work has begun on the construction of Qatar's first purpose-built church in the desert outside Doha, the country's capital.

Although the country's native inhabitants are entirely Muslim - and are prohibited by law from converting to another faith - the new Catholic church will cater to the large number of Christian migrants who have come to the Arabia Gulf state in search of work.

Costing about $15m, the new church is being
constructed outside Doha, Qatar

Roman Catholics from all over the Arabian Peninsula - many of them migrant workers - are helping to pay for the $15m building, which is scheduled to open at the end of the year.

Overseeing the church is Paul Hinder, the Catholic Church's Bishop of Arabia. A Christian in the heart of the Muslim world, his diocese is the entire Arabian peninsular, encompassing six countries.

He oversees churches in Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and even in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam where Christianity is practiced behind closed doors.

Speaking about the Christian communities in Saudi Arabia, he said: "It's not an open church. Privately the Christians may gather in their houses in a very discreet manner."

"Of course it's not easy to be a bishop here [in the Gulf]," he said. "But at least regarding the church life it is full of vitality."

Spiritual satisfaction

Bishop Paul Hinder oversees churches in Qatar,
UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and even in Saudi Arabia
Hinder said allowing Christians to worship freely could only bring benefits to the countries in which they are working.

"The more they [people] are satisfied spiritually the more they will continue to help develop the country, it's obvious," he said.

Hinder told Al Jazeera that often people are more active Christians during their one or two years labouring in the Arabian peninsular than they are when they are back home.

Certainly, turn-out at church services all over the Arabian peninsular is significant. Numbers in the congregations regularly beat those in congregations in Europe and even in the United States.

The majority of the two million expatriate Christians who attend these services are Filipinos, Lebanese and Indians who have come to the Gulf for work.

"We have to accept that we are expatriates in every sense of the word. We are a pure pilgrimage church," Hinder told Al Jazeera.

"The challenge is especially that we are a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-racial church composed of faithful from more or less all over the world."

Source: Al Jazeera