Vatican: Saudi king and Pope Benedict XVI pledge closer religious ties

Vatican City, 6 Nov. (AKI) - King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pope Benedict XVI pledged to work for peace and build closer religious ties at an historic meeting at the Vatican in Rome on Tuesday.

It was the first official visit by a Saudi monarch to the Holy See and the meeting lasted for thirty minutes.

The 84-year-old monarch, wearing a traditional blue, gold and white robe, gave the 80-year-old pope a gold sword encrusted with stones and in exchange the pontiff gave King Abdullah a 16th century engraving of the Vatican.

The Saudi king is the custodian of the mosques in the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Accompanied by a 12-member delegation, he met the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the Vatican secretary for relations with states, Mons. Dominique Mamberti.

The Vatican does not have diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, but the two leaders discussed cultural and religious dialogue in Arabic and Italian through interpreters, according to a statement released by the Vatican on Tuesday.

The statement said that it was a "cordial meeting that allowed them to touch on topics close to their hearts".

"In particular they renewed their commitment to inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, aimed at peace and fruitful cohabitation among men and people, and the value 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 statement said.

The Vatican also expressed "the hope for prosperity for all the people of Saudi Arabia" and made a special reference to the "positive and hardworking presence of the Christians in the kingdom".

The question of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia is a sensitive one.

It is forbidden to practise Christianity in public inside Saudi Arabia and illegal to bring symbols from religions other than Islam into the country. Bibles and crucifixes must be left at the border.

The pope and the king also exchanged ideas about the Middle East and the need to find a fair solution to the conflicts that affect the region, in particular the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Tuesday meeting was not the first for King Abdullah with the Roman Catholic church. The Saudi king met Pope John Paul II in 1999 when he was Crown Prince to his brother King Fahd.


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