The presence of the Catholic Church in Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain
Pius XII in veneration of the statue of Our Lady of Arabia - Vatican, December 17, 1949
Christianity came to the Arabian Peninsula as early as the fourth century after the birth of Christ. In recent years, archaeological excavations have brought to light the remains of very old Christian churches in various locations in the Gulf, dating back to the fifth century AD. These are mostly monastic complexes, which testify to the fact that the Christian faith was widespread in the region during the first centuries.
Currently, the Christian presence in the Gulf is limited to the many expatriates working there. The Catholic community numbers about two million believers, scattered throughout the Gulf States. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds: the Filipino and Indian communities are the most represented, with very large numbers. There are also Catholics from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Armenia, and fewer from Europe and North America.
This diversity of geographical origins is matched by an equally varied presence of different Catholic rites: the Latin rite, the Melkite rite, the Maronite rite, the Syro-Malankara, and the Syro-Malabar rite, and the Coptic Catholic rite. In order to guarantee the pastoral care of these communities, the Catholic Church has set up two different ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the Gulf: the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, with headquarters in Manama-Kuwait City, and the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, with headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
These ecclesiastical circumscriptions are in many ways equivalent to dioceses: that is, they are hierarchically organized portions of the People of God - headed by a bishop - to ensure the normal life of the Church in a given place.
The Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia is the Catholic ecclesiastical partition comprising Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. Catholic jurisdiction over the Arabian Peninsula was formerly entrusted to the Latin Patriarchate of Constantinople, which had existed since the 13th century. Over the centuries, smaller portions were detached from it under the name of Apostolic Vicariates: the Arabian Peninsula was gradually included in the Apostolic Vicariate of Aleppo (1762), the Apostolic Vicariate of Syria (1818), and, finally, the Apostolic Vicariate of Egypt and Arabia (1838). In 1953 Kuwait was separated from the latter, and an Apostolic Vicariate of its own was erected there. As the Catholic presence in these countries increased due to strong immigration, in 2011 the Holy See reorganized its jurisdiction in the Arabian Peninsula by establishing the two existing Apostolic Vicariates.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia has the Virgin Mary as its patroness, with the title of Our Lady of Arabia.