Christianity in Kuwait
Christians and other religious minorities enjoy an unusual amount of religious freedom. Kuwait truly exemplifies the words of its constitution, which states that "freedom of belief is absolute," and that "the State protects the freedom of practicing religion in accordance with established customs, provided that it does not conflict with public policy or morals." The Christian community's history in Kuwait began in the early 1900's with a number of humanitarian projects conducted by missionaries from the Reformed Church of America. Most notable among them was the establishment of a hospital ("the American Hospital" is still fondly remembered by older Kuwaitis). In 1931, the first church in Kuwait was built on a parcel of land granted to the hospital, where the National Evangelical Church stands today. The church conducted services in both English and Arabic. By the 1950's,the oil boom had attracted many foreigners to Kuwait, thereby expanding the Christian community, and two more churches were constructed, one of them Roman Catholic. Today, the state authorities officially recognize three principal churches: the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait (Protestant), the Roman Catholic Church, and the

Roman Orthodox Church. Smaller churches generally ally themselves with one of these larger "umbrella" churches. There are some 200 Kuwaiti Christian families today, and many more Christian expatriates. "We, the Christians in Kuwait," says the Reverend George Varghese, "are given full freedom for worship, prayers, and all other church activities. We are thankful to the authorities for their kind cooperation."

A landmark occurrence for Kuwait's Evangelical community was the ordination of a Kuwaiti citizen as priest and pastor of National Evangelical Church on January 8, 1999. Emmanuel Benjamin Al-Gharib, born in Kuwait in 1950 and educated in Egypt, is the first Gulf Arab to become head of any Protestant church. "We all feel proud of being Kuwaitis," he declared. "We were among those who stayed here during the Iraqi occupation." Al-Gharib told the Kuwaiti press that he planned to initiate Muslim-Christian dialogues in order "to show love for our home which has nearly 200 Christian citizens." The Evangelical
Church embraces more than 40 Evangelical denominations and is frequented by a diverse community of about 12,000 worshippers throughout the week.

Similarly remarkable is Kuwait's invitation of a representative of the Holy See in 1996 that made it the first Gulf Arab country ever to receive a top Vatican official. Kuwait is the only member of the Gulf Cooperation Council to maintain diplomatic ties with the Vatican State, dating back to 1968. Kuwait's Roman Catholic community, described by Pope John Paul II as "vibrant," is 100,000 strong and composed mainly of East Indians and Filipinos, though many are European, American, and Lebanese. The Vatican stressed its support for the return of Kuwaiti POWs in Iraq and for all UN resolutions relating to Kuwaiti liberation and the Gulf War. The Kuwaitis have approved a Vatican request to open an embassy in Kuwait, as well as appoint an ambassador.

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