Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Much More On Talks between Saudi Arabia and The Vatican on Construction of Churches

I talked about his yesterday

Here is the article from the Guardian that is appearing today.

Vatican in Saudi talks on building churches
· Pope's spokesman hopeful of 'historic' agreement · Secret negotiations follow King Abdullah's Rome visit

The Vatican has been holding secret talks with the Saudi Arabian authorities on building churches in Muhammad's homeland, according to one of Pope Benedict's most senior Middle East representatives. Archbishop Paul-Mounged El-Hashem said: "Discussions are under way to allow the construction of churches in the kingdom. We cannot forecast the outcome."
But, speaking to the news agency Agence France-Presse, the Lebanese prelate, the Pope's envoy in the Gulf, added: "There are around three or four million Christians in Saudi Arabia, and we hope they will have churches."
At the Vatican, the Pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said: "If we manage to obtain authorisation for the construction of the first church, it will be an outcome of historic dimensions."
The opening last Friday of the first church in Qatar left Saudi Arabia as the only country in the region that still bans the building of churches and all forms of open Christian worship. However the construction of even one church on Saudi territory would outrage Islamist militants. Saudi Arabia - home to Islam's holiest sites, at Mecca and Medina - is regarded by Muslims as sacred soil.
The Saudi authorities, inspired by the rigorous doctrine of Wahhabism, ban all non-Muslim religious rituals and materials. Bibles and crucifixes are confiscated at points of entry to the kingdom.
Diplomats in Rome said talks on the building of churches would be consistent with recent developments. Saudi Arabia is among the few countries that do not have diplomatic links with the Vatican, but sources in Rome say the Saudis are keen to establish formal relations. Last November, King Abdullah became the first Saudi monarch to visit the Vatican.
The Vatican demands religious freedom as a condition for the opening of diplomatic relations. Pope Benedict has made it one of the chief aims of his papacy to press for "reciprocity" of treatment by Muslims of Christians.
Vatican officials note privately that while Muslims are free to worship openly in Europe, Roman Catholics are subject to official and unofficial restrictions in many Muslim countries.
Christians - mainly foreign workers - account for almost 4% of the Saudi population. Estimates of the number of Roman Catholics range up to 900,000.
In Qatar last Saturday, some 15,000 people attended an inaugural mass at the country's first church. Our Lady of the Rosary in Doha, which has no or crosses on its exterior, is one of five Christian places of worship planned in the state, which borders Saudi Arabia.
Addressing the reciprocity issue, Qatar's deputy prime minister, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, said: "We are enjoying the construction of mosques and Islamic centres in the west, so we must be fair [to Christians]."
Hashem revealed the existence of the talks with Saudi Arabia while speaking on the sidelines of a Doha event. He also said he expected an announcement soon on the establishment of diplomatic ties with the neighbouring Arabian state of Oman.
The Pope is expected later this year to meet representatives of 138 Muslim scholars who wrote a letter to Christian leaders last October calling for peace between the two religions.

This is indeed significant for all Christians. I commented a couple of months ago that Pope Benedict's meeting with the King of Saudi was the most unreported international event for some reason. It was clear that some thing was up. For a review of that (with pics) go this page of the Ratzinger Forum where largely the European Press knew it was significant.(Note Article start on middle of page also go to next page where they start up again also about the middle of the page)

Crossroads Arabia is one of the best blogs that comments on what is happening in the Kingdom. He comments on this story here and I think that is important commentary!!!

The lesson is be patient!!! Don't expect the Catholic Church for instance to be start doing Corpus Christi Processions down the street the next day. There is risk here and baby steps are needed. Let us not forget that the presence of Christian US troops in Saudi was one of the reasons that Bin Laden says he started his Jihad against America. If you review Crossrads blog the last few weeks you are getting a sense that perhaps things are "opening up a tad" on other fronts

Something to watch. It also shows that perhaps the Pope, who was viewed as inflaming Islam, know a thing or two.

1 comment:

Signs of the Times said...

Patience is indeed a virtue.

Let's hope that all interested parties can have the patience to see these relationships develop without drawing hasty conclusions or jumping the gun.