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Bahrain cemetery decision still on hold

04 April 2014

ST CHRISTOPHER'S CATHEDRAL

Neat and tidy: the war graves area of the New Christian Cemetery, in Salmabad, which was cleaned up last week by a voluntary work-party from a minehunter based in the Gulf, HMS Quorn

Neat and tidy: the war graves area of the New Christian Cemetery, in Salmabad, which was cleaned up last week by a voluntary work-party from a mineh...

THE Dean of St Christopher's Cathedral, in Manama, Bahrain, the Very Revd Christopher Butt, says that he is still awaiting word from the Bahraini royal court on the promised plot of land for a new Anglican cemetery on the island.

Last summer, members of the Christian Cemeteries Committee in Bahrain decided to raise the issue once again with the government, because space at the New Christian Cemetery at Salmabad was running out (News, 14 June 2013). The current cemetery was consecrated in 1961, replacing the Old Christian Cemetery at Gudaibiya, which was established in 1901.

Now, with about 630 burial plots at Salmabad used, the cemetery is, to all intents, full. "We have filled up all the rows," Dean Butt said, "and now we're having to look seriously at what space is left, and fit in whatever we can, in corners, by removing tree stumps, that kind of thing. But there is finite space."

The church's main anxiety is not about today or tomorrow, but the weeks ahead. Even when a plot of land is formally allocated, several months might still be needed to prepare it for use as a cemetery. In the view of Dean Butt, "at the very minimum there will need to be walls built, and pathways prepared, depending on the nature of the ground. This will take time."

The British embassy in Bahrain continues to pass on reassurances from the royal court that a number of plots have been selected as possible sites for the new cemetery. But a final decision has yet to be made. "We are waiting hopefully," Dean Butt said, "but, apart from reassurances, we have heard nothing."

The size and composition of the congregation at St Christopher's have been affected by the simmering unrest on the island. Elements of the majority Shia community pressing for equal rights with the Sunni minority. On 3 March, three policemen were killed in violent protests. The Bahrain government has accused Iran of inciting unrest among the island's Shia.

"Over the past couple of years, the congregation at St Christopher's has dropped significantly," Dean Butt said. "This is particularly true of Western expatriates. They are on shorter-term, less reliable contracts than before, and there is a faster turnover of people."

Although St Christopher's Cathedral and School have not been directly affected by violence, since the killing of the three policemen "there is an increased police presence, more roadblocks - particularly close to Shia areas," Dean Butt said. "Some-times, a 20-minute journey will take two hours, prompting people to wonder whether it's worth staying."

Nevertheless, the cathedral will be starting a new weekly service after Easter for an expanding Tamil-speaking congregation, Dean Butt said; and the school has a waiting list. "There is still plenty here to keep us busy."

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