Latest News

English bishop put in charge of desert diocese ten times the size of Britain

Algerian security forces stand guard on a ridge looking down on the Algerian city of Ghardaia in March 2014, where Bishop MacWilliam's bishopric is based. (Photo: BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images)

A British bishop is in charge of a diocese ten times the size of Britain, after being ordained as the Bishop of Laghouat in southern Algeria.

The Right Rev John MacWilliam, 68, will minister the third largest Catholic diocese in the world, a region covering 0.81 million square miles.

Laghouat, which runs from west to east from Morocco to Libya, is home to few Christians. MacWilliam’s chapel is situated in an area home to the Mozabite population, Ibadi Muslims with Berber roots, and the city’s Arab Muslims.

Bishop MacWilliam, who has spent the last 20 years in north Africa, said: “There are groups of Islamist terrorists and everyone has to be careful about that, but they can hit anywhere in the world.

“We don’t feel threatened. We just live side by side. It’s just being there that’s important.”

The bishop was ordained on Saturday in a ceremony at Worth Abbey, West Sussex.

“We’re a Christian presence,” he said. “It’s our presence among Muslim people that is important. If we weren’t there, they wouldn’t know what Christians are like.”

The bishop spent 18 years with the British Army, rising to the rank of major, before leaving in 1984. He studied at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic studies, made his religious vows in 1991 and was ordained as a priest a year later.