Opening of the new St. Francis Xavier’s Catholic Church at Salalah
Oman: On Saturday 07 September at 7 pm, around one thousand people attended the civil inauguration ceremony of the new St. Francis Xavier Church, Salalah, which is located around ten minutes from the City Centre.
The new church, which took around eighteen months to complete, has a seating capacity of 600 people, and it also has a balcony with a view to the main altar and a multipurpose hall, thus bringing the total seating capacity of 1000 people. Dignitaries present at the celebration included the Apostolic Nuncio, His Grace Archbishop Francisco Padilla, and His Excellency Ahmed Khamis Masood Al Bahri, Director of the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs. The Apostolic Vicar of Southern Arabia, Bishop Paul Hinder OFM Cap. responsible for the catholics in the UAE, Oman and Yemen, and several priests and religious sisters of the Vicariate were also present at the event.
Welcoming the community, Fr. Antony Puthenpurackal, parish priest, expressed his gratitude to God for the opening of the new church and said that this occasion is a milestone in the history of the catholics of Salalah. He also remembered all those who in one way or another, were responsible for the dream of a new church to become a reality.
Speaking at the occasion, Ahmed Khamis Masood Al Bahri, Director, Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman offered his greetings and congratulations to the catholic community o f Salalah, “It is my pleasure to open this huge catholic church and in my heart there is a deep happiness in seeing all of you as one community, receiving opportunities for better worship, with good priests to guide the coming generation.”The Director also conveyed the greetings of his His Excellency Abdullah bin Mohammad Al Salmi, Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, to all the catholics in Salalah.
Archbishop Padilla, expressed the gratitude of the catholic church to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said for the permission to build and finish the church. “It is a commitment to religious tolerance, allowing the faithful to pray in these churches. This permission given for this church is at the same time a big contribution to the realization of peace. We still hope to see more places of worship in Oman in the future, the blessings of this benevolent Government to accommodate the spiritual needs of the people and also emphatically to show to the world that Oman enjoys peace precisely because of this religious tolerance and the efforts to preserve this tolerance,”he said.
The Nuncio encouraged the faithful to visit the church often, “May this new Church be a sign of hope for all of us, a sign that God always walks at our side in good and bad times, even if our prayers are not answered instantly. We come here to pray to Him, to ask for consolation and guidance and inner peace. So it important that you come always to this Church, which is your Church.”
During his address, Bishop Paul Hinder wanted to acknowledge first those who were very often forgotten, the many workers who laid their hands to build the church. The Bishop remembered the long road by which the construction of the edifice now stood completed. The land was graciously given by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said in 1979 for the first church in Salalah. On 22 February 1981 an ecumenical centre was opened in the same compound by Bishop Gremoli and dedicated to the Three Magi, in favour of the tradition that one of the kings came from the region, which is famous for frankincense. In 1984 a small church was built in the same compound and dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, and a few years later, a bigger church was built. The Bishop thanked the Govt. of Oman for their support and cooperation and mentioned that in all the masses which take place in Oman, prayers are constantly offered both for His Majesty and for the welfare of the country.
Mr. Cyril Samuel, who has been in parishioner at Salalah for about fifteen years, said that the new church will be able to accommodate the larger crowds who are usually present during the festal masses. “Under the leadership of Fr. Antony and the Parish Council, even during the Monsoon (Khareef) season, it was found that people were really active on the fast tracked construction project; and the contractors were able to complete the church by the promised date,” he said.
Mr. Sebastian D’Silva, the Vice President of the Parish Council, had a special note of thanks for the support of the Bishop and the hard work of Fr. Antony to complete what he refers to as “the most beautiful church in the Gulf states”. Indeed, the church has many beautiful stained glass windows, a richly and attractively decorated ceiling and two large paintings of St. Francis Xavier, the patron of the parish and St. Anthony of Padua which adorn either side of the altar. “Here, in our parish, the Filipino community and three major Indian communities – the Konkan, Malayalee and Tamil community unitedly work together for parish projects. The recent bus services which have been started throughout the city will also help more people from the city outskirts to attend services in the church”, he said.
On Sunday 08 September at 7 pm, the Church will be solemnly blessed during the Eucharistic Celebration which will be presided by His Excellency Bishop Paul Hinder. Around a thousand faithful are expected to attend the celebration.