Pope welcomes Saudi King for historic meeting

Pope Benedict has welcomed Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to the Vatican - an historic first audience between the head of the Church and a Saudi monarch.

During the 30 minutes private meeting, the two leaders speaking through translators discusses religious freedom, inter-religious dialogue and the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While, the two sides have no diplomatic ties, Abdullah met the late Pope John Paul II when he was crown prince.

Grasping both his hands, the Holy Father warmly welcomed the King who has requested the meeting while on his European tour, Catholic News Agency reported.

A Vatican spokesman said the conversation dealt with issues "close to the heart' of both leaders including collaboration and dialogue between the three monotheistic faiths for the "promotion of peace, justice and spiritual and moral values, especially in support of the family."

The Pope raised the issue of the 1 million Catholics - mostly foreign workers - who live in Saudi Arabia. While they can practice their faith privately, public religious symbols - such as crucifixes - other than Islamic ones are forbidden in the Kingdom.

King Abdullah later met the Vatican secretary of state for further talks.

Bishop Paul Hinder, who is responsible for Catholics in Saudi Arabia said Christians complain that rules are not clear and hardline Muslim authorities sometimes crack down on legitimate congregations.

"The most important thing is to get the possibility to gather in freedom and security for our worship, our masses and our activities," said Bishop Paul Hinder said in an interview with Reuters.

King Abdullah, who is styled the Custodian of the Two Sacred Mosques - in Mecca and Medina - is an advocate of cautious reform in Saudi Arabia, often against the wishes of the powerful conservative religious establishment.

The symbolism of the meeting was huge those who believe there should be more dialogue between Islam and Christianity.

Historic Saudi visit to Vatican (BBC World News, 06/11/07)
Pope and Saudi king deal with issues "close to the heart"(Catholic News Agency, 06/11/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Saudi Arabia (Wikipedia)

Pope hopes to expand Vatican diplomacy (CathNews, 13/05/05)

7 Nov 2007