Un­prece­dented visit by Ma­ronite pa­tri­arch re­flects King­dom’s open­ness, en­voy tells Arab News

Arab News - - FRONT PAGE - NA­JIA HOUSSARY & MO­HAMMED RASOOLDEEN

On Tues­day, Al-Rahi will meet King Sal­man and Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, who will host a lunch in his honor. He will also meet the Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri, who is in Riyadh.

“The Pa­tri­arch rep­re­sents all the Pa­tri­archs and Chris­tians of the East. He is car­ry­ing a mes­sage of love and open­ness to Saudi Ara­bia, which is now wit­ness­ing fur­ther open­ness and pos­i­tive changes,” Al-Rahi’s spokesman Walid Ghayyad told Arab News in Beirut.

“We thank the King­dom for invit­ing the Pa­tri­arch on this mo­men­tous visit, es­pe­cially since it com­ple­ments and ac­ti­vates his­tor­i­cal re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries.

“King Saud bin Ab­du­laziz vis­ited the Ma­ronite Pa­tri­ar­chate in Bkirki in Mount Le­banon in 1953 and ex­changed en­cour­ag­ing mes­sages at the time. So what is hap­pen­ing to­day is not new, but rather a re­newed step that has fur­ther as­pects in light of the open­ness of the King­dom.”

Be­fore leav­ing Beirut, Al-Rahi said: “The King­dom has long sup­ported Le­banon … re­la­tions be­tween us are based on friend­ship and broth­er­hood.”

Al-Rahi heads the Ma­ronite sect, Le­banon’s largest Chris­tian com­mu­nity and the Mid­dle East’s largest Catholic church. He took of­fice in March 2011 and was made a car­di­nal by Pope Bene­dict in 2012.

His views on tol­er­ance, mod­er­a­tion and cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion have long chimed with those of Saudi Ara­bia. In April 2011, Al-Rahi pledged “to es­tab­lish a sin­cere and com­plete di­a­logue” with the Mus­lim world “and build to­gether a fu­ture in com­mon life and co­op­er­a­tion.”

The Le­banese Am­bas­sador to Saudi Ara­bia, Ab­dul Sat­tar Issa, said the pa­tri­arch’s visit demon­strated the im­por­tant steps taken by Saudi Ara­bia to mod­ern­ize its in­sti­tu­tions and to re­in­force per­cep­tions of Is­lam as a reli­gion of mod­er­a­tion.

There are about 300,000 Le­banese ex­pa­tri­ates in Saudi Ara­bia. The pa­tri­arch ad­dressed more than 1,500 of them at the Le­banese Em­bassy on Mon­day at a com­mu­nity event hosted by the am­bas­sador.

He said he was happy that his coun­try­men were treated well in the King­dom and the peo­ples of the two coun­tries were deal­ing with each other in a friendly and broth­erly man­ner be­cause of their his­tor­i­cal re­la­tions.

On his first day in Saudi Ara­bia, the pa­tri­arch also had a pri­vate meet­ing with Saudi Min­is­ter of State for Arab Gulf Af­fairs Thamer Al-Sab­han. Af­ter meet­ing Saad Hariri on Tues­day, he will leave Riyadh in the evening to at­tend ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal meet­ings in Rome.

BEIRUT/RIYADH: The un­break­able link be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Le­banon was re­in­forced on Mon­day when Pa­tri­arch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, head of the Ma­ronite Church, re­ceived a red-car­pet wel­come on a his­toric and un­prece­dented visit to the King­dom.

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