Vatican discusses church in Saudi Arabia

March 18, 2008 at 11:28 AM
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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, March 18 (UPI) -- The Vatican's Mideast representatives met with officials in Saudi Arabia to discuss building the first Roman Catholic church there, the BBC reported Tuesday.

Archbishop Paul-Mounged el-Hachem announced that negotiations started weeks ago and followed November's meeting between Saudi King Abdallah and Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope set up a Catholic-Muslim forum two weeks ago to smooth frayed relations between Islam and Catholicism. Benedict had angered many Muslims with a 2006 speech that seemed to link Islam with violence.

The announcement of the discussion comes on the heels of the opening of the first Roman Catholic church in Doha, Qatar.

Saudi Arabia has about 1 million Catholics, many of them workers from other countries, who may practice their religion at home but not in public. Saudi Arabia expelled the last Christian priest in 1985, citing the teachings of Mohammed that state only Islam can be practiced in the Arabian Peninsula.

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