Pope Benedict XVI welcomed King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to the Vatican today, marking the first time that a Saudi king has officially held talks with the Pope. During their encounter, the two leaders discussed religious freedom, inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Holy Father received King Abdullah warmly, grasping both his hands and leading him into his library where they spoke in Italian and Arabic for 30 minutes. The meeting was arranged for at the request of the king who is on a tour of Europe.
The conversation dealt with issues “close to the heart of both sides,” according to the Vatican. Among the topics discussed were: “commitment to inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue aimed at peaceful and fruitful coexistence,” and “the importance of collaboration between Christians, Muslims and Jews for the promotion of peace, justice and spiritual and moral values, especially in support of the family.”
The Pope also raised the situation of the approximately 1 million Christians, mostly guest workers, who live in Saudi Arabia. Currently in the kingdom, these Christians are not allowed to practice their faith in public and symbols from religions other than Islam are not allowed across the border. The Holy Father pointed out “the positive and industrious presence of Christians” in Saudi Arabia.
As the meeting came to a close, the two leaders discussed ways to resolve the instability in the Middle East, especially the conflict in the Holy Land between Israel and Palestine.
Before parting ways, AKI reports that “King Abdullah presented Benedict with a traditional Middle Eastern gift — a golden sword studded with jewels — as well as a gold and silver statue of a palm tree and man riding a camel. The pope admired the statue but merely touched the sword.” Pope Benedict gave the king a 16th century engraving of the Vatican in exchange.