Browsing 'church' News

All photos by Navin Sam, with reporting from Chantelle D’mello

Undeterred by rainy weather and heavy traffic, thousands of people gathered at the Religious Complex in Mesaimeer last night and today to welcome Christmas with prayer services.

Crowded parking lot

Navin Sam

Crowded parking lot

During last night’s midnight mass, traffic leading up to the area grew steadily, with many people from all denominations showing up hours early to find a seat for the 1.5 hour-long mass.

This morning as well, the church complex was crowded and festive, despite the usual tight security that required devotees to go through metal detectors, ID checks and bag scans prior to entering the venue.

In addition to services, the faithful wished each other a blessed holiday as they took selfies, sang Christmas carols and participated in other activities.

Expanding complex

Qatar is home to hundreds of thousands of Christians. Its religious complex opened in 2008 – the country’s first church in 14 centuries – with the launch of the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Evangelical Alliance Churches Qatar groundbreaking

Via EVAQ

Evangelical Alliance Churches Qatar groundbreaking

The grounds have expanded significantly to include several Christian denominations since then, including the Anglican church and Greek Orthodox church.

Services are also held at the complex for Evangelical, Pentecostal and Protestants, among others.

And in October, the Evangelical Churches Alliance Qatar (ECAQ) finally broke ground on their own space at the complex.

Are you celebrating Christmas today? Thoughts?

Evangelical Alliance Churches Qatar groundbreaking

Via EVAQ

Evangelical Alliance Churches Qatar groundbreaking

With reporting from Chantelle D’mello

Editor’s note: The original version of this story misquoted ECAQ chairman Beda Robles describing his reaction to the presence of dignitaries for the official groundbreaking. The erroneous statement has been removed.

Advancing on a years-long plan to build their own worship space in Qatar, the Evangelical Churches Alliance Qatar (ECAQ) has finally broken ground on the project.

Speaking to Doha News, ECAQ’s chairman Beda Robles said:

“I’m so much thankful for God, and glad…This is what we’ve been waiting for, to have this groundbreaking. We are so thankful to the Emir and the government for their help, and everybody is so glad to have this happen.”

According to the Gulf Times, actual construction of the three-story building will begin in about a year, after the design and tendering stage is completed.

A rendering of the new Evangelical Churches Alliance Qatar.

Evangelical Churches Alliance Qatar

A rendering of the new Evangelical Churches Alliance Qatar.

ECAQ has approximately 1,200 members who hail primarily from the Philippines, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The 28-year-old organization has historically held worship sessions in villas and other private homes.

Though it secured a lease contract for the land in 2013, ECAQ had to wait until this summer to begin fundraising for the QR100 million (US$27.47 million) church as it awaited government approvals.

Speaking to Doha News in July, Robles said:

“We have a small amount collected now, and we’re hoping to get a start on the ground-breaking with that. As for the other money, we’re going to have huge fundraising efforts to bring in donations, and we’re also asking help from other churches in Doha, in the region, and around the world,” he said.

The building is expected to take around three years to complete, he added.

Church

Qatar’s first church in more than century opened in 2008, and has been growing steadily since then.

Qatar's church complex

Navin Sam

Qatar\’s church complex

Over the summer, the complex introduced new stringent security measures following a government directive to boost precautions at hotels, malls and other popular spots around Qatar.

According to US State Department’s most recent report on religious freedom, Qatar has granted legal status to the Catholic, Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic, Lebanese Maronite, Filipino Evangelical and Indian Christian churches.

Smaller Christian groups are required to worship under the patronage of one of the eight recognized denominations.

Thoughts?

Landmark mall security

Chantelle D'mello

Landmark mall security

As Qatar enters its fourth day of Eid al-Fitr festivities, several shoppers have reported seeing increased security at malls across Doha, in the form of additional guards, personnel checking vehicles for bombs and other measures.

Speaking to Doha News, several mall officials, including at Dar Al Salam, City Center and Hyatt Plaza, confirmed that they have upped their safety measures after receiving a government directive right before the holidays.

Parking closed at Church complex

Chantelle D'mello

Parking closed at Church complex

The move comes days after hotels around Doha were told to increase their own security by installing and using metal detectors at entrances, and scrutinizing incoming vehicles.

A week ago, churches at the religious complex also confirmed new safety measures that included closing off gated parking, introducing metal detectors and reducing opening hours, following orders from the government.

Security there has since increased dramatically, though it is unclear how long those measures will be in place.

Officials said they were not told the reasons behind the increased security, but the action comes at a time when “terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region,” the UK embassy told Doha News.

Last month, there was a deadly mosque attack in Kuwait, in which 27 people were killed and more than 200 injured. ISIL fighters took credit for the attack, which was carried out by a Saudi suicide bomber.

Mall security

Speaking to Doha News, Zahid Iqbal, the operations manager at Dar Al Salaam mall, confirmed that extra security measures have been rolled out during Eid. He said:

“We’ve tightened security considerably. The undersides of all cars going into the basement are being checked with mirrors, and mall-goers are also requested to open their car boots for inspection. We’ve also hired extra security guards in the parking area and mall entrances.”

City Center Mall

Chantelle D'mello

City Center Mall

Iqbal added that the extra precautions, which took effect shortly before the holiday, were a result of a ministry directive, and would be in place until the end of the festivities early next week.

Several other malls, including City Center, have also said that they have added extra precautions after receiving advice from the government.

Speaking to Doha News, mall director Joerg Harengerd said: “It’s all to ensure people’s safety from any possible threat.”

He continued:

“While we’re not necessarily checking cars, we have hired some 50 percent more security than we have normally, and have discussed a couple of other security measures with the CID (Criminal Investigation Department). We also have additional police presence around the mall. It’s not a government directive, per se, but they recommended that we should go for maximum security during the Eid time.”

Harengerd added that the mall routinely hosts high-profile festivals and events that also warrant additional security, and that the measures would be lifted by the coming weekend.

Hyatt Plaza also confirmed extra security, but an official there said the decision had more to do with increased shopping traffic due to the holidays than a government mandate.

Shoppers also observed guards stopping and checking vehicles at other malls and stores around town this week:

Church security

Meanwhile, Qatar’s churches have further increased their security this week, following the closure of their parking lots several days ago.

Yesterday, 11 new Al Fazaa and Lekhwiya cars could be observed patrolling the religious complex’s perimeter in Mesaimeer – up from a handful of vehicles a few weeks ago. A new fence has also gone up around the wall.

New church fence

Chantelle D'mello

New church fence

Additionally, though the religious complex’s various churches each previously had their own entrances, they are now only accessible through one gate, at which four security check-points have been set up.

The security checkpoints are housed in four tents equipped with metal detectors, X-ray scanners and two police personnel.

They been set up behind the newly fenced perimeter, and inside the complex’s main wall.

Vehicle access to the complex has also been restricted. Road blocks in the form of Al Fazaa cars have been set up at various points, and cars are now only allowed to enter up until the church’s external car park on the opposite side of the road, and exit through only one junction.

A makeshift police tent has also been set up at one of the roundabouts adjacent to the complex, and several policemen could be seen directing traffic, manning the gates, monitoring incoming crowds and walking around the area yesterday evening.

Speaking to Doha News, Selvaraj Arockiam, the parish priest at the Our Lady of Rosary Church, said that the new measures were instituted after a new government directive.

“This came into place late Thursday evening and Friday morning. News came down from the higher ups that there was additional security that would be put in place for our safety, and we complied. We’re still unsure when it will be lifted, but we’re hoping that things will go back to normal in the next few weeks,” he said.

Church congregants are advised to arrive several minutes prior to services to ensure they clear security in time.

Thoughts?