"The establishment of a Catholic church in Qatar has been approved in principle," Italian Ambassador Ignazio Di Pace told the Gulf Times, a publication in Doha, the Qatari capital city. Calling the decision "yet another sign of Qatar opening up to new vistas of freedom and religion tolerance," the report said only the technical and financial details remained to be worked out in establishing the nation's first Roman Catholic church. Previously, Catholics and other Christians were limited to informal group meetings in homes. To date only the Anglican church has enjoyed official status. According to reports, a plot of land is expected to be allotted for use as a church compound in Doha, with property shared among several Christian communities. An estimated 60,000 Catholics live in Qatar, a small peninsula jutting off the east coast of Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf. One of the leading oil and gas producers in the world, the tiny state has an estimated population of 700,000 that is three-fourths expatriate. Along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar prohibits the public practice of any religion except the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The government has for several years quietly allowed the Christian communities of Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations to meet informally for private worship services, but only if local authorities are notified in advance.Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct. Used with permission.