In a historic decision, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican have entered into an agreement that churches will be built for Christians living in the Muslim-dominated nation.
According to the Egypt Independent, the agreement was signed last month by Secretary General of the Muslim World League Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdel Karim Al-Issa and the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in the Vatican Jean-Louis Tauran.
The cooperative agreement advocates the important role of both monotheistic religions to renounce violence toward one’s neighbor and imposes a joint committee comprising two representatives from both sides to be established for future meetings.
The meetings are expected to be held every two years and will alternate between Rome and a city picked by the Islamic World League.
After the meeting, Tauran said in an interview with the “Vatican News” newspaper that he was pleased by what he called “the beginning of the rapprochement.”
“It is a sign that the Saudi authorities are now ready to give a new image to the country,” he said.
The monumental meeting also included a visit to the Saudi capital of Riyadh with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohamed Bin Salman, where Tauran and his delegates visited the Center for the Fight against Extremist Thought.
“I think all religions are faced with two dangers: terrorism and ignorance,” Tauran said. “During my meetings, I insisted very much on this point, that Christians and non-Muslims are spoken of well in schools and that they are never considered second-class citizens.”
Salman himself has been an outspoken voice as he prepares to one day take the place of his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and has championed openness with other cultures and political practices in order to reduce the country’s dependence on oil.
Saudi Arabia itself remains the last country in the region that doesn’t allow Christian churches and bans all forms of non-Muslim religious activity.
Addressing Saudi officials, Tauran mentioned that Pope Francis follows “with close attention” the hostile situation of the “hundreds of thousands of Christians in the Saudi Kingdom.”
The cardinal further reiterated the Vatican’s own strive for equal treatment of all citizens regardless of their religion or non-religious affiliation, adding the need for a “common basis” for the construction of places of worship.
However, reports of secret meetings between Vatican officials and those from the Saudi kingdom have been circulating regarding the construction of places of worship.
This meeting seems to be just one in a long line of negotiations and talks of peace between the Muslim and Christian communities, as Pope Tawadros II, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria met with Bin Salman earlier in March.
The Coptic Pope had nothing but praise for the young Saudi prince, who he said represents an openness and “modern” way of thinking.
“The visit of the Saudi Crown Prince was a great pleasure,” the Pope said. “And I was very impressed by his personality and smile, and his knowledge and understanding of history and current events.”
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