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    » 11/08/2007, 00.00


    Apostolic Vicar in Arabia: affinity and convergence between Pope and Saudi King

    Msgr. Paul Hinder comments on the historic visit of King Abdullah to Benedict XVI. Their common concerns regarding the family and peace in the Middle East. The problems and arrests of Christians in Saudi Arabia, the only nation in the Arabian peninsula with no diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

    Abu Dhabi (AsiaNews) – The Saudi King Abdullah’s visit to the Vatican is a “positive sign”.  It has thrown light on the “affinity” between Islam and Christianity regarding issues such as the family and peace between Israel and Palestine.  This was affirmed by Msgr. Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar in Arabia since 2005.  65 year old Msgr Hinder, a Swiss Franciscan, lives in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.  It is the hub from which he travels to visit the Arabian Peninsula’s Christian communities, mainly composed of immigrant workers.

    The Apostolic Vicar underlines that religious freedom in Saudi Arabia is still a problem, even if over recent years the arrest of Christians has fallen and the King has reduced the power of the muttawa (religious police)

    Below is the integral text of an interview given by Msgr. Paul Hinder to AsiaNews:


    What are your impressions of King Abdullah’s visit to Benedict XVI?

    The visit in itself I feel is a positive sign.  Regarding the content of their talks I only saw the official Vatican statement: they spoke of the theme of peace in the Near East, inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, above all the issue of the family.  On these points in fact there is great affinity between Islam and Christianity and the open letter by the 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders is another sign of this.

    I think that the encounter was also a good opportunity to raise the issue of religious freedom for Christians in Saudi Arabia.  In the statement this theme was not explicitly mentioned, but it does speak of the ‘positive presence and work of Christians”.  I think that in this context the Pope was also able to speak of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia.

    Has there been any improvement for Christians in Saudi Arabia, since Abdullah has been King?

    In an indirect way yes, there has.  Over recent years there has been a decline in arrests.  I have to say that there are fewer problems for us Catholics because we have always sought to keep a low profile.  However in the case of Protestants and Evangelicals there are still many arrests, also due to their activism.

    There is also another aspect: some recently passed laws have limited the power of the muttawa, the religious police.  Now they can no longer make direct arrests but have to first pass through the regular police, who have more respect for the law.  The muttawa no longer have absolute power, as was the case before.

    But in private can you still hold masses and catechesis etc..?

    The King’s position is that in ‘private’ you are free to practise your faith and hold celebrations as long as they ‘do not disturb others’.  The point is that the rules don’t define what ‘private’ is and this leave space open to limitations.  Perhaps it must be added that the King is open to the religious classes present in Saudi Arabia.

    Many countries from the Arabian Peninsula have recently requested diplomatic relations with the Vatican….

    Only Saudi Arabia and Oman have no diplomatic relations with the Holy See.  Oman has already committed itself to establishing relations, that process is already advanced but held back somewhat by questions of protocol.  It must be said however that perhaps it is too big a step for Saudi Arabia.  At the same time I do not exclude the possibility that king Abdullah’s visit to the Pope could open up some form of relations, in the interim.

    And the question of Middle East peace? 

    The pope and the king spoke of a ‘just solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.  This conflict interests both of them.  Saudi Arabia plays a very important role in the entire process and the Holy See too has the possibility of playing an important part.  In a certain way there is a convergence between the too visions.  Both the Vatican and Saudi Arabia feel peace lies in the “two people, two states” solution, for Israel and Palestine.




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    See also

    07/11/2007 INDIA – SAUDI ARABIA
    Brian O’Connor: the doubts and hopes of King Abdullah’s visit to the Pope
    The Christian of Indian origins was detained for 7 months in Saudi Arabia’s prisons because of his faith. In an interview with AsiaNews he comments on the meeting yesterday in the Vatican: a positive step but now Riyadh must really commit itself to respecting religious freedom. Reflections on the persecution of Christian and all non Muslims, and a request for reciprocity.

    26/01/2006 LEBANON – USA
    Hariri in US, to see Bush tomorrow
    The meeting will focus on Lebanese crisis. Nabih Berri levels harsh criticism at the government. Prime Minister Siniora will be in Amman tomorrow then fly to Cairo.

    07/11/2007 SAUDI ARABIA – VATICAN
    Pope and Abdullah focus on religious freedom, says Arab press
    Saudi sources say discussion underlined rejection of terrorism. The ‘historic meeting’ is reported in papers and TV both inside and outside Saudi Arabia with spotlight on inter-faith co-operation. Some however forget to mention that the former includes the Jews.

    06/11/2007 VATICAN – SAUDI ARABIA
    Pope and King Abdullah talk about inter-faith dialogue and peace between Israelis and Palestinians
    The first meeting between a Saudi king and the head of the Roman Catholic Church takes place in a “cordial atmosphere.” Press release mentions Christians living in Saudi Arabia and unexpectedly refers to Jews.

    26/03/2008 SAUDI ARABIA
    Contradictory signals from the Saudis on interreligious dialogue
    Favourable attitudes toward welcoming other religions alternate with reactions of entrenchment and dissent. King Abdullah declares openly his commitment to fostering interreligious dialogue, while last week the majority of the members of the consultative council voted against the resolution to respect other faiths.

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