History of the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary Qatar
The Catholics in Qatar, all expatriates from various countries around the world, were served on an occasional basis, by visiting missionaries from Bahrain in the earlier years, until the permanent presence of Fr. Adriano Benini at the end of 1970. Fr. Benini was replaced by Fr Kevin Mulhearn in 1978, who was able to focus to a community numbering as many as 5,000 people. In those days, permission for a resident priest could not be obtained, nor for a church.
In 1980, a low point came when Fr. Kevin’s replacement, Fr. Timothy Cestello, an American Capuchin, was obliged to leave. The Catholic population by then numbered about 6,000 mostly from India. Fr. Kevin however returned and resumed his pastoral care of the Catholic foreign population, training lay ministers, until his final departure on 26 May 1981. Since then, there was no priest in Qatar until Bishop Gremoli found a priest to reside in Qatar.
The community at that time was organizing masses in private houses. Small domestic congregations actively participated in the Eucharistic Sacrifice with exemplary piety. Weekly Masses were being held in the Domestic Quarters (of a private company) in Doha. Prior to it, masses were being held in garages of private bungalows in Doha. Subsequently, private houses were made available to the resident priest to hold weekly masses including Holy Week Services, Christmas, New Year Masses, etc. At one stage in 1981, there was shortage of priests. Bishop Bernard Gremoli , the then Vicar Apostolic of Arabia, a resident in Abu Dhabi issued temporary Eucharistic licenses with his approval, to conduct Eucharistic Services in Doha, Dukhan and Ummsaid, which was an interim measure, until the arrival of a new priest in Qatar.
Fr. Gerard Dunne of the Mill Hill Fathers, an elderly English man, was able to gain a visa valid for a month at a time by virtue of his nationality; which required him to leave every month, spending few hours outside the country, and returned back to Doha to spend another month, this arrangment lasted until August 1986.
His successor Fr. Leszek Wisniewski, was a British priest of Polish origin. He was young and enterprising and was able to energize religious services. He also organized catechism classes for parish children.
Fr. John Van Deerlin, who took over in July 1989, organised masses at the American School where he was a teacher, at Al Bidda, Bin Omran and out-station where masses were being celebrated in the compounds of various companies. In 1990, the parish centre was housed in a villa near Rumeillah hospital, having a parish centre, the church life began to become active; the children’s choir, altar servers and liturgical ministers were introduced little by little to the parish. Around 10 years later, sometime in 2001, the parish centre was moved again to the Ras Abou Aboud area. It was a bigger compound with the Main Hall used for masses and cabins used for parish offices, catechism classes and priests residence. The catholic faithful started to feel at home and secure to express their faith and able to participate actively in various church activities in the new location. It was in 2002, after 13 years from his arrival in Qatar, that Fr. John Van Deerlin left to begin his studies in Arabic in Cairo, Egypt.
Although a minority, but still a large number of souls to be fed, Catholics had been catered for intermittently in private houses at first, then at the American School, (until that school’s recent project of refurbishment put an end to the regular masses) and in the 1990’s at the two successive parish centres rented for the purpose around Doha. Such frequent moves lend poignancy to the lines in the hymn “so everyday, we’re on our way, cause we’re a travelling wandering race! We’re the people of God,” which sometimes seem to have been written for the expatriates community. There was therefore a new spirit of optimism and joy when the announcement was made by the Italian Ambassador Signor Ignatio Di Pashi, on 30 December 1999 to the Gulf Times, which was then relayed through the BBC world service, that the Catholic faithful could officially look forward to having a permanent church in Doha.
Fr. Lester Mendonsa, an incardinated priest, came to Doha in 2002, in a time when catholics were high in spirit of hope. And on 10 October 2003, the Catholic Church in Qatar which was then housed in a rented premises in Ras Abu Aboud, was officially dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, hence the name Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Fr. Tomasito Veneracion, OFM, Cap. was the acting parish priest from October 2005 and formally appointed as parish priest to the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary on 22 January 2006; and together with five other priests from the Order of Friar Minor, Capuchin, namely Fr. Youssef Youssef, Fr. Selvaraj Arockiam, Fr. Jose Thachukunnel, Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, and Fr. Andrew Francis, and with Fr. Mathew Punakulathil a diocesan priest, they all served the approximately 100,000 regular catholics in Doha.
It was not until 2004 that Bishop Bernard G. Gremoli, also a Capuchin, who visited Doha Catholics every year and regularly, extended his gratitude to the authorities for allowing the Christians to worship in private; and on that same occasion the Bishop requested the government of Qatar for a piece of land to build a church. Finally, with God’s grace the Bishop received the news from the government that a piece of land had been granted.
In 15th of March 2008, the Catholic faithful in Qatar celebrated the much awaited event, the inauguration of the majestic Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Mesaimeer Area. It was a glorious day for the mother church and for the Catholic faithful to witness the fulfillment of their dream, to have a house of worship in this country. The multi cultural community of catholic faithful feels safe and blessed to celebrate publicly some of its varied festivals.
Today, the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary is a prominent landmark in the Religious complex, serving the Catholic faithful in Qatar.