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At Qatar’s Church City, Sunday Comes on Friday


DOHA, Qatar — Behind closed doors on Friday, in small rooms often used for teaching catechism, the youngsters celebrated Christmas.

There was food, drink and songs. Wreaths and stockings decorated the partitions. A number of adults wore red Santa hats.

Nearby, across the complex of mostly unmarked sand-colored buildings, a Mass was being celebrated in a 2,700-seat sanctuary, its altar backed by painted angels and Jesus on a cross. There can be one other mass every hour, 15 of them on Friday, said in 10 different languages: English, Tagalog, Indonesian, Korean, Urdu, Malayalam, Tamil, Konkani, Sinhala, Arabic.

“We do as many masses as possible, to make people feel they belong somewhere,” Rev. Rally Gonzaga said.

The busiest place on Fridays in Doha may not be at any World Cup soccer stadium. It may very well be this sanctioned island of Christianity — the just one within the country — on the dusty southern fringe of Doha.

The Qataris, and their road signs, cryptically call it the Religious Complex. Most others check with it as Church City.

And at the middle of the eight churches planted here, from Anglican to Greek Orthodox, is the Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. Father Rally, as congregants call him, is a 52-year-old from the Philippines. He leads a team of 11 priests.

This church has an estimated congregation of 200,000 — or it did, Father Rally said, before the coronavirus pandemic, and possibly before Qatar finished or suspended the development projects related to the World Cup that had employed so many migrant employees. Now, possibly it’s 100,000. He shouldn’t be sure. He just knows that they are available droves.

“Most individuals are social beings, so that they want community,” Father Rally said. “They need belongingness.”

A Temporary Guide to the 2022 World Cup

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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits the very best national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:

Where is it being held? This yr’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the US and Japan to win the correct to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.

When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games will likely be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.

Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup often takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar may need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.

What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified mechanically because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the correct to come back and play. Meet the teams here.

How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.

How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament will likely be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You possibly can livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s the best way to watch every match.

When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Recent York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Meaning there will likely be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the US for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.

Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.

Qatar is a nation deeply rooted in Islam. Calls to prayer may be heard five times a day throughout Doha. World Cup stadiums have prayer rooms for fans, and a few staff on the games will stop what they’re doing to kneel in prayer.

But there are only about 300,000 Qatari residents in Qatar, a rustic with a population of nearly 3 million. It’s a segregated and stratified society, where nearly 90 percent of the individuals are from some place else: the worldwide south, mostly — places like India, Nepal, the Philippines, but in addition many parts of Africa: Egypt and Kenya, Uganda and Sudan.

They’re the laborers, the service employees, the housekeepers. Their treatment, or mistreatment, in doing the dirty work of constructing this gas-rich nation has been a serious story line surrounding this World Cup.

Migrants still work in every corner of the labor market. On the soccer stadiums, they’re ushers, janitors, concession sellers, ticket takers. In some ways, they’re the general public face of Qatar, sprinkled through every visitor’s experience.

To have an official presence in Qatar, non-Muslim religious groups must register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only eight Christian faiths have been approved.

The country has no approved Hindu shrines or Buddhist temples, no Jewish synagogues.

“Unregistered religious groups are illegal,” the State Department said in a report on international religious freedom, “but authorities generally permitted them to practice their faith privately.”

For Christians in search of community, there’s Church City.

It was built away from town center, amid the vast stretches of open lots and cramped migrant neighborhoods with grim names just like the Industrial Area. The buildings are unadorned, as if in disguise. There are not any crucifixes or other Christian symbols visible on the surface. The tower on the Catholic church tapers to the sky, but there isn’t a cross at its apex.

That was a part of the agreement. Symbols visible to most people, even in promoting, will not be allowed.

“It’s a way for us to respect the country because they’ve given us a spot of worship,” Father Rally said. “We’re not pondering that they will likely be offended, but we are going to respect the culture.”

The foundations give the complex an air of secrecy, despite its size and reach. The Anglican Centre, for instance, lists 85 congregations that use its constructing, offering specialized services in dozens of languages. One other a part of the compound is for the Syrian Orthodox, one other for the Coptic Orthodox. An interdenominational church is a large catchall.

All of them adhere to Qatar’s workweek, where Friday is the standard time without work and Sunday is a piece day. So while our Lady of the Rosary offers Mass no less than 4 times a day from Sunday to Wednesday, and about twice that on Thursdays and Saturdays, Friday is, by far, the most important day of the week.

“There are Muslim traditions, and we now have to adapt,” Father Rally said. “Friday is our Sunday.”

Catholic leadership in Vatican City, he said, grants special permission to Our Lady of the Rosary to conduct Sunday’s liturgy two days early.

This past Friday, acres of parking stuffed with cars. Buses, taxis and Ubers got here, went and got stuck in traffic. People streamed into the complex through security gates and metal detectors. Some had walked miles from surrounding neighborhoods. Many wore their Friday best.

It shouldn’t be all about attending Mass. At Church City, there’s a gentle flow of life, death and all the pieces in between.

That is where children are baptized, no less than 20 of them per week. (Through the early months of Covid, when in-person services were suspended, there was a backlog, so Father Rally and one other priest eventually conducted 200 baptisms without delay.)

That is where people get married. An enormous a part of the priest’s job is making calls to the sick and conducting last rites and funeral services, complicated by the good distances that almost all individuals are from home.

All of it’s wrapped in Catholic custom and liturgy, flavored by differences in nationality, language and culture. The church is each a comfort station and a crossroads.

“In my time as a priest, it’s probably the most difficult thing,” Father Rally said.

Father Rally has been at Our Lady of the Rosary for a decade and was given the leadership role in 2017. When he led a parish within the Philippines, most everyone was from the identical country, the identical area people, and most congregants were women.

Here, he leads people from all around the world, though most of his congregation comes from India and the Philippines. A majority of them are men, many working in Qatar to support families back home.

On Friday, he walked across the grounds in his white robe. He noted the huddle of individuals on the prayer grotto, the road out the door of the adoration chapel. He wandered into the massive shady spot where people mingled, getting free tea and bread. Inside a constructing marked “Our Lady of Arabia Hall,” he walked past a room marked “canteen” that smelled of curries and pastries.

Up some stairs, a hallway of doors was a real-life advent calendar; opening each one revealed a surprise. Here were a dozen people singing with arms raised. Here were 40 people listening intently to someone preach. Here was a 15-member band and a room filled with singers. When their door opened, their music spilled into the hall.

Some people, especially those from the Philippines, rushed Father Rally with smiles, dipping their foreheads in order that he could bless them with the back of his hand.

Most excited were the youngsters. A bunch of 15 10-year-olds was celebrating the Christmas holidays in a small room when Father Rally appeared within the doorway. The youngsters got here to him, smiling, and got a fast blessing. Then they pulled him into the room to pose for a gaggle photo.

“Merry Christmas!” the youngsters said.

“Merry Christmas,” he replied.

Soon they were back outside, into the intense sun and out the exits toward the parking zone, re-entering the desert world that they call home. More people were flooding in to take their places.

Concerning the same time, across the remaining of Doha, loudspeakers called Muslims to prayer.

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