Saudi Arabia’s diplomacy doesn’t mask its religious intolerance

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (Photo: PA)

It is interesting to note that His Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia has sent a message to Pope Francis through his ambassador to Italy.

There is no Saudi ambassador to the Vatican, because the Holy See and the Saudi Kingdom have no diplomatic relations. This is because the Kingdom refuses to concede freedom of conscience to its subjects and foreign residents, and the Holy See refuses diplomatic relations to such countries.

In case any reader is in any danger of forgetting, in Saudi Arabia it is illegal to celebrate any non-Muslim feast, or to hold any non-Muslim act of worship.

Hence Mass can only be celebrated in foreign embassies. There is, I believe, a regular Mass in the Italian embassy in Riyadh, and there are priests in Saudi Arabia, but these live anonymously and discretely. All this is pretty tough on the Catholics who live in Saudi, among whom are many Westerners and about half a million people from the Philippines.

The report cited above says that there are eight countries which have no diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Wikipedia talks of seven such countries: “As well as the countries mentioned above as having apostolic delegations, Afghanistan, Bhutan, People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Tuvalu do not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See,” it says.

This list makes interesting reading (though, in fairness, I have never heard anything ill of Tuvalu). The eighth country that Wikipedia does not list, is, I feel sure, The Maldives, which like Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian Mulsim state.

One wonders what the Saudi King said in his message to the Pope. Perhaps no more than diplomatic niceties and congratulations on his succession. The Saudi King has shown signs of wanting inter-religious dialogue, as I have mentioned before, and this is to be welcomed.

But the King has to tread carefully, as he has radicals at home who are anything but committed to dialogue, again, as I have mentioned before.

The King has called in person on Pope Benedict XVI, a call that sadly no Pope can ever return: the position of Saudi Arabia remains an enigma in the modern world.

What is to be done? My personal attitude is that prayer and more prayer is necessary for the peoples of Arabia, and in particular that this prayer should be directed through Our Blessed Lady, who, I feel sure, has this cause particularly close to Her heart.