Beirut (Agenzia Fides) - Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai is preparing to embark on a historic visit to Saudi Arabia: the departure of the Patriarch from Beirut to Riyadh is scheduled for Monday afternoon, November 13. This evening – report Lebanese sources contacted by Agenzia Fides - the Patriarch will have a meeting with Lebanese immigrants working in Saudi Arabia who fear losing their jobs. The Lebanese and Saudi sides both hailed the “momentous” visit, which comes at the invitation of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but it will be amid a blurred political climate in Lebanon after Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh, where he has since been staying.
According to sources of the Maronite Patriarchate, the visit of the Patriarch will focus on the issues of dialogue, rejection of terrorism and extremism, and also the condition of Lebanese workers resident, about 300,000, in Saudi Arabia, who according to the figures of the Lebanese Foreign Ministry now fear being expelled from the country.
The official invitation to visit Saudi Arabia was delivered to Patriarch Rai by Walid Bukhari, Saudi Chargé d'affaires in Lebanon on Wednesday, November 1 (see Fides 3/11/2017). "The visit", says to Agenzia Fides Bishop Camillo Ballin MCCJ, Apostolic Vicar for Northern Arabia, "may be the beginning of a new attitude of Saudi Arabia towards other religions". In the past only Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch Elias IV officially visited Saudi Arabia in 1975. Maronite Patriarch Rai is also a member of the Cardinal's College, and could become the first Cardinal to officially visit Saudi Arabia and meet the authorities of the Country. Meanwhile, the resignation of the Lebanese Premier has also accentuated the political and geopolitical value of the patriarchal visit. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 13/11/2017)