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Saudi king, Pope in historic meeting

Vatican City, Nov. 6 (Reuters): Pope Benedict and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah held a historic meeting today and discussed the situation of minority Christians in the Islamic country where the Vatican wants them to have more freedom.

At the first meeting between a Pope and a Saudi monarch, the two also discussed the need for greater collaboration between Christians, Muslims and Jews and prospects for West Asia peace.

They spoke for about 30 minutes in the Pontiff’s private study with the help of interpreters in what both the Vatican and reporters described as a cordial atmosphere.

A Vatican statement said “the presence and hard work of Christians (in Saudi Arabia) was discussed” — seen as a clear reference to the Vatican’s concern over the Christian minority.

Vatican sources said before the meeting that they expected the Pope to raise his concern over the situation of Catholics and other Christians in Saudi Arabia. The Vatican wants greater rights for the 1 million Catholics who live in Saudi Arabia, most of them migrant workers who are not allowed to practice their religion in public.

They are only allowed to worship in private places, usually homes, and cannot wear signs of their faith in public.

King Abdullah, custodian of Islam’s holiest sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina, wore his traditional white robes. The Vatican said other topics discussed included inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue and “collaboration among Christians, Muslims and Jews for the promotion of peace, justice and spiritual and moral values, especially those which support the family”.

The Pope and the king also discussed West Asia, particularly the need to find “a just solution to the conflicts that afflict the region, in particular the Israeli-Palestinian (conflict)”.

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