Living the Christian faith is in the essence of Pará Walnecir Guedes Pereira, 52. Born in Cachoeira do Arari, on Marajó Island, she moved as a child, aged 6, to Belém, the land of what is considered the largest Catholic procession in world street, the Nazare’s Cirio.
“Life as a Christian is at my root”, says she, who since 2013 has lived in Doha, in Qatarwhere he ministers catechism for 1st communion and confirmation at Nossa Senhora do Rosário Church, located within a religious complex in the host country of world Cup 2022.
The place is already on the outskirts of the capital, close to a desert region, in the district of Al Rayyan. At first glance, it is not easy to recognize it as a religious site.
Huge parking lot, barred gates, surrounded by earth tone buildings. Few cars circulate on the streets around it, and you hardly see people on foot.
Before entering, you must pass through a search room, with metal detectors, in addition to informing the reason for the visit.
“Only Christians can enter the religious compound”, explains Wal, as Walnecir likes to be called. “So Qatar takes care of us so that our religious freedom is preserved.”
A huge Christmas tree at the entrance and a life-size nativity scene, to the left of the entrance door, are the only things that stand out in the exterior landscape of the round church.
Because of islamic lawsthe church does not display Christian symbols on the outside: neither crosses, nor bell tower, nor bells or sound that refers to the christianity.
The huge tree, however, was put up as part of the preparation for Advent, which in the liturgical year marks the four weeks before Advent. Natalon December 25th.
This year, with world Cup played for the first time at the end of the second semester, the beginning of the last week of the period coincided with the final of the tournament, played on Sunday (18), when the Argentina beat France in Lusail.
Holding the event was part of the country’s project to open up to the West, as well as the construction of the complex that brings together Anglican, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic and Indian Christian churches.
The space was donated by the then emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, father of the current emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thaniem 2005.
Inaugurated in 2009, the Nossa Senhora do Rosário church was the first of them. On the opening day, Vatican Radio stated that it was “an event of historic importance after 14 centuries”.
“Inside the complex, we do everything as if we were in our country. In the Advent period, we have celebrations with Christmas masses, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ”, says Wal.
On Saturdays, masses are usually celebrated by Filipino priest Michael Toher. He began his religious path in Medellín (COL), where he learned Spanish. In Qatar, he has studied Portuguese with Brazilians, like the woman from Pará, to celebrate masses, baptisms, first communions and weddings for the Portuguese-Brazilian community.
Before the construction of this church, Catholics in the country prayed impromptu indoors, although the Qatari penal code imposes a penalty of up to five years for those who promote or participate in cults of a religion other than Islam.
Although Christianity arrived before Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, it was the Islamic religion that prevailed in these lands and became the official religion of these states, including Qatar.
For the same reason, no other public place outside the religious complex can have Christmas decorations, as is common to find in streets, malls and in stores in Brazil, for example.
Islamic law also does not include December 25 in Qatar’s public holiday calendar. Even multinational companies hardly release employees on the date unless there is a prior agreement.
This time, however, the eve of the feast day will fall on a Saturday. As in Islamic countries the week begins on Sunday, working days are from Sunday to Thursday, while Friday and Saturday represent the weekend.
In general, Christians living in the country need to organize themselves to celebrate Christmas. With about 2.7 million inhabitants, with only 380 thousand natives, Qatar has about 2.4 million migrants, of which an estimated 20% are Christians.
“Because it has a majority foreign population, Qatar respects everyone’s religion and creed. I myself have always decorated my house every year, including the outside, and there is no impediment”, says Danielle Milagres Bernardes, from Rio de Janeiro, 55, who has lived in Qatar for five years.
Since arriving here, she has opened her own business selling Brazilian food to order. In December, she sells Christmas kits, with different options to put together a supper, including pork loin with pineapple, for 350 qatari rials (R$ 498).
In Qatar, the sale of pork to Muslims is prohibited. Only a few places sell it to foreigners.
“We respect that this is a Muslim country, but we, expatriates, make our own supper and decorate our homes to celebrate Christmas,” says Danielle.
This year, because of the volume of requests during the World Cup, however, she will not be able to maintain the tradition. “Well, besides, my kids are adults now, so that’s okay. But I’ve always decorated, even outside, without any hindrance.”