Will it finally be possible to build a church in Saudi Arabia?

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Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran meets Saudi Prince Faisal in 2012

Will it finally be possible to build a church in Saudi Arabia?

la-croix.com

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has paid a visit to Saudi Arabia. There are now calls for the construction of churches in a nation with a clandestine population of two million Christians.

Will a Catholic church open soon in Riyadh?

Signs of opening up by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman have revived the hopes of Christian communities in the Middle East.

The prince recently launched a series of social reforms in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, on a visit to Saudi Arabia, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue president, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, was welcomed by the Global Center for the Combating Extremist Ideology.

Regarded as a tenacious promoter of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam, Cardinal Tauran also met King Salman at Riyadh on April 18.

“All religions must be treated the same way, without discrimination, because their followers, as well as citizens who do not profess any religion, must be treated equally,” Cardinal Tauran said in comments on the controversial issue of “full citizenship” for all, which were reported by L’Osservatore Romano.

More than 1.5 million Christians currently live in Saudi Arabia while another 1.5 million live in the surrounding emirates, where several churches have already been built.
Originally from the Philippines, India, Egypt or the Near East, most local Christians work on building sites or as domestic workers. There are also a number of Korean and European Christians who hold higher paid positions.

Despite their number, celebrating Mass or worship is formally has been prohibited under penalty of arrest by the Saudi religious police.

Nevertheless, various religious groups have continued to operate in clandestine fashion, often on diplomatic premises.

However, Christian Lochon, an academic at the University of Paris 2, believes that the current situation is ripe for change.

“In the wake of the horrors committed in the region by ISIS, the Saudis want to build a more humanist image for themselves,” he said.

“Plus, you don’t send someone of the level of Cardinal Tauran if there is nothing concrete ready to be implemented,” Lochon added.

“These Christians have the right to a place of worship according to the United Nations of which Saudi Arabia is a member,” said Msgr. Pascal Gollnisch, director of the Oeuvre d’Orient, a French solidarity program with the Christian churches of the East, in a statement published last week during the visit to France by Crown Prince bin Salman.

“We have invited the Crown Prince to take audacious steps because the absence of the churches in Saudi Arabia when thousands of mosques have been built in Europe is no longer acceptable from the point of view of maintaining good Islamic-Christian relations,” he said.

As well as the construction of places of worship, Msgr. Gollnisch also called for the multiplication of opportunities for exchange and dialogue at the doctrinal level “with all the social consequences that such a dialogue would involve.”

Over the last several months, Saudi leaders have multiplied their meetings with the representatives of several Christian traditions.

In November, the head of the Maronite Church in Lebanon, Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rahi, was received in Riyadh by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The latter is also believed to have met a group of Jewish and Catholic leaders during a recent trip to New York.

“Since the regime cannot let things go at a political level, it is more open to loosening the reins at a cultural and religious level,” said Lochon.

“Having firmly taken control of the political and military apparatus, the Crown Prince now has his hands free to offer external signs of detente,” he added.

The Catholic Church has two dioceses in the Arabic peninsula.

Northern Arabia includes Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and has its seat in Bahrain, where a cathedral is under construction by Bishop Camillon Ballin.

Southern Arabia includes the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen and has its seat at Abu Dhabi under Bishop Paul Hinder.

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 11:45
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