On Wednesday morning, November 22, 2017, before the Audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis received in audience a representative of Saudi Arabia, in the “Auletta” adjoining Paul VI Hall.
The Saudi representative, M. Abdullah bin Fahad Al Eidan, is Saudi Arabia’s Minister Counsellor for Muslim Affairs. The audience was requested by the Saudis and took place in a warm atmosphere.
Some 15 persons accompanied the Minister, including a woman dressed in black — which is the Vatican protocol for papal audiences –, with white decorative motifs.
According to “Rome Reports,” which filmed the Minister’s arrival, the latter revealed the “admiration and esteem” that the Holy Father inspires in the Kingdom of Arabia. The Pontiff thanked him for his words and welcomed him, saying that he was “happy,” “very happy to meet” him.
The Pope spoke in Italian and was translated by his Egyptian secretary, Monsignor Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, Coptic priest, who took part in the face-to-face conversation. “I forgot all my Arabic,” said the Pope, “and that’s why I need a translator.”
At the end of their meeting in a room of Paul VI Hall, the Minister gave the Pope a miniature representing Mecca. On the cover of the box was an inscription thanking the Pontiff for being a “promoter of peace and coexistence in the world.” The Minister also gave the Pope a box containing a bottle of perfume of the country and a “Muslim chaplet,” on whose beads Muslims pronounce the 99 Names of God, including “the Merciful.”
The Holy Father embraced the Minister and thanked him for his gifts. He then offered the latter three papal medals in bronze, silver, and gold.
The meeting concluded with the traditional photo of the Pope with the delegation of 14 persons.
The audience seemed all the more important given the international context of the search for peace in Syria and the crisis in Lebanon – last Sunday made an appeal in favor of Lebanon –, and the fact that Saudi Arabia does not yet have diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
“I renew a grief-stricken appeal to the International Community to make every possible effort to foster peace, in particular in the Middle East,” said the Pontiff on November 19, after the Angelus. Francis also addressed “a special thought to the dear Lebanese people”: “I pray for the country’s stability so that it can continue to be a ‘message’ of respect and coexistence for the whole Region and the entire world.”
There seems to be intense diplomatic activity at present in Saudi Arabia, with the visit, notably of the Maronite Patriarch and Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Boutros Raii. He was received wearing visibly his pectoral cross, including during his meeting with the Prince heir Mohamed bin Salman on November 13.
In 2007, under Benedict XVI’s pontificate, the first visit took place of a king of Saudi Arabia to the Vatican, for “a new step forward,” said at the time Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office: king Abdallah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, guardian of Islam’s holy places (Mecca and Medina), asked to be received “to promote , in common agreement, the defense of religious, moral and peaceful values in a world where irreligiosity and moral disorder are the cause of destruction , and where violence and war continue to be ruthless.”
Anne Kurian Contributed to this Story
Translation by Virginia M. Forrester