The Catholic Church in Bahrain is part of the Universal Church whose spiritual head is the Pope. On May 31, 2011, according to a decree of the Holy See, Bahrain was detached from the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia and included in the newly-formed ecclesiastical territory of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. The Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia is under the spiritual care and guidance of His Lordship Bishop Camillo Ballin, MCCJ.
Christians in Bahrain make up about nine percent of the population. Bahrain is one of the few GCC countries to have a local Christian population, notably Roman Catholic. The Christians who have Bahraini citizenship number around a thousand. The majority of these Christians were immigrants to Bahrain between 1930 and 1950. They were eventually granted Bahraini citizenship. Most of them are originally Arab Christians from the Middle East, although there are smaller numbers from India. They enjoy religious and social freedom. The other Christians who make up the majority of Christians in Bahrain are the foreign citizens from all over the world who live and work in Bahrain.
The Constitution states that Islam is the official religion and that Islamic law is a principal source for legislation. The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, though the government has placed some limitations on the exercise of these rights in accordance with the customs observed in the country.
There are two Catholic churches in Bahrain. The Sacred Heart Church is in Manama. Bahrain was the first country in the Persian Gulf to build a Catholic church -- the Sacred Heart Church, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2009. The church was built in 1939 on land donated by the then Emir of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa at the request of H.E. Giovanni Baptista Tirinanzi, then Apostolic Vicar of Arabia, based in Aden. Today, the Sacred Heart Church serves an estimated 80,000 Catholics.
The second smaller place of worship at Awali is shared with the Anglican community. The worship centre which is patronized and owned by the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) has been in existence for almost as many years as the Sacred Heart Church to meet the spiritual needs of the Catholics residing at Awali, Riffa and the surrounding districts. The Catholic Parish is dedicated to Our Lady of the Visitation.
The Catholic parishes in Bahrain are administered by Priests of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor - the Order that has been entrusted with the Jus Commissionis (pastoral responsibility and authority) for the Vicariate.
The Comboni Sisters, a religious congregation were invited by the Apostolic Vicar in 1953 to take care of the Sacred Heart School which was founded alongside the church, in the 1940s. The school has now shifted to new premises at Isa Town. Since 2003, the Sisters of the Apostolic Carmel Congregation from India have taken charge of the school. Together with the parish church, they make up the "Sacred Heart Family."
As the Gulf began to experience the oil boom, more and more Catholics were beginning to arrive in Bahrain. To cater to their needs, St. Barth's Hall was built in 1958 to provide a place for social gatherings. This building also included residential accommodation for the priests.
Through the next 30 years as the number of Catholics grew the church, now referred to as the 'Mother Church', was unable to cater to the needs of the community. The church underwent a major expansion, most significant of which was the building of multipurpose center which opened in 1990. Other major developments include the building of the Parish community center and the Third Millennium building.
Relations between the Holy See and the Gulf kingdom saw significant progress in 2008. Not only did the Vatican receive the first ambassador from Bahrain, but King Hamad met Pope Benedict XVI as well. After the meeting the sovereign issued an official communiqué inviting the Holy Father to visit the country.
In his recent meeting in May 2011 with the newly appointed Apostolic Vicar H.L. Bishop Camillo Ballin, MCCJ and the outgoing Apostolic Vicar H.L. Bishop Paul Hinder, OFM Cap., His Majesty the King reiterated his invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit Bahrain soon, stressing Bahrain’s keen interest to promote fraternity between the followers of all monotheistic religions. The Bishops thanked HM King Hamad for promoting free practice of religious rituals. They hailed the care and interest enjoyed by Christians in the Kingdom of Bahrain, reiterating allegiance to the Ruling Family.
Please click here for a pictorial presentation on the Sacred Heart Church in Bahrain