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Lebanese church leader hails Saudi ‘friendship and support’

BEIRUT/RIYADH: The unbreakable link between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon was reinforced on Monday when Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, head of the Maronite Church, received a red-carpet welcome on a historic and unprecedented visit to the Kingdom.
On Tuesday, Al-Rahi will meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who will host a lunch in his honor. He will also meet the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is in Riyadh.
“The Patriarch represents all the Patriarchs and Christians of the East. He is carrying a message of love and openness to Saudi Arabia, which is now witnessing further openness and positive changes,” Al-Rahi’s spokesman Walid Ghayyad told Arab News in Beirut.
“We thank the Kingdom for inviting the Patriarch on this momentous visit, especially since it complements and activates historical relations between the two countries.
“King Saud bin Abdulaziz visited the Maronite Patriarchate in Bkirki in Mount Lebanon in 1953 and exchanged encouraging messages at the time. So what is happening today is not new, but rather a renewed step that has further aspects in light of the openness of the Kingdom.”
Before leaving Beirut, Al-Rahi said: “The Kingdom has long supported Lebanon … relations between us are based on friendship and brotherhood.”
Al-Rahi heads the Maronite sect, Lebanon’s largest Christian community and the Middle East’s largest Catholic church. He took office in March 2011 and was made a cardinal by Pope Benedict in 2012.
His views on tolerance, moderation and cultural communication have long chimed with those of Saudi Arabia. In April 2011, Al-Rahi pledged “to establish a sincere and complete dialogue” with the Muslim world “and build together a future in common life and cooperation.”
The Lebanese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Abdul Sattar Issa, said the patriarch’s visit demonstrated the important steps taken by Saudi Arabia to modernize its institutions and to reinforce perceptions of Islam as a religion of moderation.
There are about 300,000 Lebanese expatriates in Saudi Arabia. The patriarch addressed more than 1,500 of them at the Lebanese Embassy on Monday at a community event hosted by the ambassador.
He said he was happy that his countrymen were treated well in the Kingdom and the peoples of the two countries were dealing with each other in a friendly and brotherly manner because of their historical relations.
On his first day in Saudi Arabia, the patriarch also had a private meeting with Saudi Minister of State for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan. After meeting Saad Hariri on Tuesday, he will leave Riyadh in the evening to attend ecclesiastical meetings in Rome.

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