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Saudi king in friendly talks

VATICAN CITY (CNS): Inter-religious dialogue, peace in the Middle East and the life of Christians living in Saudi Arabia were on the agenda when Pope Benedict XVI met King Abdullah Aziz of Saudi Arabia.

After his audience with the Pope on November 6, the king also had a separate meeting with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

In the context of expressing hope for “the prosperity of all the country’s inhabitants”, the Vatican said it also raised the issue of the “positive and hardworking presence of Christians” in Saudi Arabia, which prohibits the public expression of any faith other than Islam.

As king, the Saudi Arabian ruler also is the guardian of Islam’s sacred mosque in Mecca, where the founder of Islam, Mohammed, was born, and of Medina, where Mohammed’s tomb is located.

The Pope and the king spent about 30 minutes behind closed doors, speaking with the help of two translators.

Even before becoming Saudi Arabia’s ruler, King Abdullah began working on a process to convince Arab leaders to recognise Israel’s right to exist in exchange for an Israeli promise to withdraw from the Palestinian territories seized in the 1967 war.

The Vatican said that in the king’s meetings with the Pope and Cardinal Bertone there was “an exchange of ideas about the Middle East and the need to find a just solution to the conflicts that trouble the region, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

In a front-page article the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, placed the king’s visit in the context of new efforts to promote inter-religious dialogue in general and Christian-Muslim dialogue in particular.

Calling the visit one of “great importance” in its November 5-6 edition, the newspaper noted that it came less than a month after 138 Muslim scholars, including several Saudis, wrote a letter to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders “reaffirming the importance of dialogue between Christians and Muslims”.

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