RIYADH, November 13, 2017 – Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi, one of the most prominent Christian figures in the Middle East, arrived on Monday in Saudi Arabia, where he will meet the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
This is the first official visit by a Maronite Patriarch to the Kingdom. The Patriarch, who is heading a large delegation, is due to meet King Salman on Tuesday.
Thamer Al-Sabhan, the Saudi Minister of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs, and Lebanese Ambassador Abdulsattar Issa, and other officials, greeted the Patriarch upon arrival in Riyadh. Al-Sabhan has said that the Patriarch’s visit underscores the openness of the Kingdom.
“Patriarch Bechara Al Rahi’s upcoming visit to the Kingdom stresses the Kingdom’s approach for peaceful coexistence, closeness and openness to all the components of the Arabic peoples,” Al-Sabhan tweeted on his official account over the weekend.
The Patriarch headed to the Lebanese embassy in Riyadh upon his arrival. He is also due to meet with former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is currently in the Kingdom after having submitted his resignation recently, citing possible threats to his life back home. On Sunday, Hariri said he may return home in a few days, pending security checks to ensure there are no possible breaches.
“The visit will touch on the dialogue of civilisations and humanitarian projects, and not politics in the first place,” former Lebanese MP Dr. Faris Said told AlRiyadh daily, adding that King Salman is “sending a message of openness and brotherhood that stresses that Islam is the religion of peace, love and togetherness.”
Describing it as a “brotherly visit par excellence”, Bishop Yousef Matar, who is part of the delegation, said: “The Kingdom is Lebanon’s big sister and always helps the Lebanese people.”
The only other visit to the Kingdom by a Christian patriarch took place in 1975, when the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Elias IV (Moawad), visited the Kingdom to congratulate the new monarch, King Khalid bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz. Later, a number of bishops have visited as part of official delegations offering condolences or congratulations.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz held a historic meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in November 2007 at the Vatican.