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Maronite patriarch invited to Saudi Arabia

Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi
BEIRUT: Waleed Bukhari, the Saudi chargé d’affaires in Lebanon, said he handed Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi an invitation on Wednesday to visit Saudi Arabia and meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“It will be one of the most important official visits to the Kingdom. It will be historical,” Bukhari said, adding that it will take place in the next few weeks.
Lebanese daily An-Nahar wrote: “The timing and content of the invitation were surprising, as it will be the first visit by a Maronite patriarch to Saudi Arabia, a country that has no Christian churches and parishes.”
Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, who returned from the Kingdom on Wednesday, said during a Cabinet meeting on Thursday: “Saudi Arabia is very keen on Lebanon’s stability.”
Lebanese MP Boutros Harb, who is close to Al-Rahi, welcomed the invitation. “It’s an attempt to strengthen Lebanese-Saudi relations and Christian-Saudi relations,” Harb told Arab News.
“It shows that Saudi Arabia ignores all sectarian differences and wants to establish new ties between King Salman and the Maronite patriarchate.”
The mufti of Tripoli and northern Lebanon, Sheikh Malik Al-Shaar, also hailed the invitation. “Saudi Arabia is the first Arab country to embrace all Arab countries,” he told Arab News.
“The Kingdom is taking care of Lebanon with all its religions and communities, as well as the Lebanese cause and internal civil peace. It supports every step that comes within the framework of uniting Lebanese communities and groups.”
The invitation “confirms that Saudi Arabia has opened its arms to all parties, communities and active actors in Lebanon,” Al-Shaar said.
“It’s now time to meet and discuss everything related to Lebanon in order to preserve the Christian presence in the East.”
Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) said: “The visit has been in preparation for the past four or five months.”
Ali bin Saeed Al-Awwad Asiri, Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, who is close to Al-Rahi, reportedly played a major role in arranging the visit. Sources said the invitation reflects greater openness in the Kingdom.
During the visit, Al-Rahi will convey a vision of “a united Lebanon with both its Christian and Muslim populations,” the NNA said.

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