OXFORD, England — The bishop who administers the church in Kuwait criticized legislation that would restrict Christian places of worship in the country.
"There'll be problems if the government adopts this proposal; it's out of step with the traditions of Kuwait, which seeks to be an open, tolerant country welcoming other religions besides Islam," said Italian-born Bishop Camillo Ballin, apostolic administrator of Kuwait.
Such proposals come "from ideologies which want to divide the world between Muslims and non-Muslims," he told Catholic News Service March 12.
In February, the newly formed al-Adala (Justice) Bloc introduced legislation to remove Christian churches from Kuwait and impose Islamic law, or Shariah. Party officials said later the legislation would not remove the churches but prohibit further construction of Christian churches and non-Muslim places of worship in the country. It also introduces Islam-inspired measures to fight corruption and "strengthen national unity."
Bishop Ballin told CNS that al-Adala's claims that there were more churches in Kuwait than needed by its Christian minority were untrue and took account only of the small number of Christians who were ethnic Kuwaitis. He said the church needs at least 36,000 square yards of additional space to accommodate practicing Catholics.
"When religious life is assured, social life is also easier — so why can't our foreign members have a place for worship?" the bishop asked.
"We want to collaborate with the government to make an ever-better society in Kuwait. But for this, we need to ensure constant religious education for our faithful, and this requires space, time and personnel.
"The world is becoming one big village, where we cannot separate people and religions," he added. "We have to live as brothers, since we're together every day."
He said Christian minorities were respected in Kuwait and that he had "never experienced enmity" despite wearing his cassock and pectoral cross everywhere.
"Our faithful take many initiatives here, running associations and prayer groups, as well as meeting for spiritual formation and helping the poor. Most importantly, they are predominantly young and zealous and wish to stay faithful to their Catholic faith," the bishop said.
The Catholic Church claims 350,000 mostly expatriate members in Kuwait, making up 6 percent of the emirate's population.
Several other Christian groups, Kuwait's Council for Islamic-Christian Relations and the Kuwait Human Rights Society also criticized the proposal by the Islamic parliamentary bloc.