Saudi king, Cardinal Rai review fraternal relations during first historic visit

Saudi king, Cardinal Rai review fraternal relations during first historic visit

AFP and Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Tuesday, November 14, hosted the head of the Lebanese Maronite church, a historic first at a time when Riyadh is stepping up pressure on Iran- backed Hezbollah.

Cardinal Beshara Rai arrived in Riyadh on Monday, November 13, in the first trip to the Kingdom by a senior Lebanese figure since a crisis sparked by the shock resignation of prime minister Saad Hariri, which was announced from the Saudi capital.

Cardinal Rai and the king “reviewed fraternal relations between the kingdom and Lebanon and confirmed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, renouncing violence, extremism and terrorism,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Cardinal Rai also met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a trip that symbolizes a rare inter-religious exchange in the ultra- conservative kingdom, which is home to the holiest sites in Islam.

The Maronite patriarch’s visit “stresses the kingdom’s approach for peaceful coexistence, closeness and openness for all sections of Arabic people,” Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said on Twitter.

Cardinal Rai also held talks with Mr. Hariri--who stepped down during a televised address on November 4 from Riyadh, in which he accused Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite movement that is part of his government but also close to Iran, of controlling Lebanon—and expressed support for the reasons his resignation.

"Hariri is returning as fast as possible and I support the reasons for his resignation," Rai was quoted as saying by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

Rai's trip has come under heightened scrutiny in light of Hariri's resignation, but an official visit to Saudi Arabia by such a senior non-Muslim cleric is significant as a rare act of religious openness by the conservative Muslim country.

Prince Mohammed says he wants Saudi Arabia to open up more to the world. In addition to imposing radical economic reforms, the 32-year-old heir-apparent has pledged to relax strict social norms and revive a "middle-of-the-road, moderate Islam open to the world and all religions, traditions and people".

Rai heads the Maronite church, which has a presence in Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus and follows an Eastern rite of the Roman Catholic Church.

Flanked by Catholic clerics wearing vestments and gold crosses, Rai discussed religious tolerance and combating extremism with the king and his son, the Saudi state news agency said.

Rai is the second Christian patriarch to visit the country, after another such trip in 1975. He said the original invitation had been extended in 2013 by the late King Abdullah.

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 19:22
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