On Palm Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, not as an general on a stallion, but as the humble servant of the Lord on a donkey. Today, on Good Friday, we remember, how he became the suffering servant of the Lord as he died on the cross for the sins of the world, and on Easter Sunday we shall celebrate his victory over death and his resurrection bringing new life to all the world.
This year on Palm Sunday more than 100.000 Christians in the small Arab Golf-state Qatar celebrate that they for the first time could gather for Sunday service in a church. It is only a Catholic chapel without church bells and visible crosses, but it is a church built on a plot donated by the local emir. The Christians experience a lot of difficult conditions in the Arab world, but now Saudi Arabia is the last country in the Arab world without a single church and where it is still strictly forbidden to build churches. Christianity, however, has a very long history in the Arab world, also in what is today Saudi Arabia. According the Acts of the Apostles Arab speaking people were present in Jerusalem on Pentecost Day when the Holy Spirit was poured out and gave birth to the church. 600 years later at the time of Muhammad there were Christians in Arabia, some of whom Muhammad no doubt met. According to the dominant Wahabi-Islamic tradition no other houses of worship are allowed in Saudi Arabia than mosques.
Nevertheless there are a very many Christians who work as guest workers in Saudi Arabia today, including 800.000 Catholics, in particularly from the Philippines and India. While these Christians are not allowed to gather for worship, and even less to build churches in Saudi Arabia, the largest Mosque in all of Europe was built in Rome already in 1995. Therefore there are good reasons to ask for at least a minimum of reciprocity for Saudi Arabia. No doubt, this is also one of the arguments that the Vatican is using in its present negotiations with the government of Saudi Arabia in order to get permission to build churches in the home country of the Prophet.
I fear that we may have to wait very long until the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations will get permission to build churches for their adherents in Saudi Arabia. But while we wait, we may rejoice that we live in a globalized world in which it becomes more and more difficult to maintain or defend the traditional borders. To the surprise of many I can reveal that a church has already been established in Saudi Arabia, and of all towns in Mecca. Not a physical church built by bricks but a virtual church, ”The Virtual Church of Jesus Christ in Mecca, Saudi Arabia”.
Tranum Strand, Denmark, Good Friday, March 21, 2008
Mogens S. Mogensen