In Saudia Arabia, Religious freedom is virtually non-existent. The Government does not provide legal recognition or protection for freedom of religion, and it is severely restricted in practice. In fact, all citizens are considered by the state to be Muslim by default, with this policy extending so as far as to unborn children still in the womb.
Despite the intense religious restrictions, the universality of the Catholic Faith is truly shown by over a million followers of the one true Church living in the country.
In Saudi Arabia, conversion from Islam to any other religion is considered apostasy by the state, which carries with it the possibility of punishment by death. The government also has a department, called the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, intended to enforce these laws and promote religious uniformity in the country. Still, well over a million faithful Catholics live in Saudi Arabia and are forced to practice the Faith in private for fear of punishment.
The largest population of Catholics are immigrants from the Philippines, who come to the country as expatriates for work. Although Saudi Arabia comes under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, it has no dioceses or churches. Thus, community members hold private Masses in their homes.
One member of the underground community is a Philipino man, whose name we will not publish for his safety, working in the country since 1992. He is a member of an international Catholic lay ecclesial movement, which has about 3,000 hidden members in Saudi Arabia. He says that community members hold Masses in private residences, constantly moving from house to house to avoid detection. Masses are also occasionally held in foreign embassies.
“There are houses identified and we determine who goes to what house,” [Name redacted] said, adding that each Mass is usually attended by about 80 people. There is freedom but you should not create noise unlike some of our brothers. Their praise and worship events usually create noise.”
Almost a decade ago in 2008, the Vatican was in talks with the government of Saudi Arabia to establish a Catholic Church in the country, but the state government decided against it. Today, the future is unclear whether or not the country will allow for churches to be built. What is certain, is that the Catholic Faith is as alive and well as ever.