Saudi Arabia reportedly agreed to a historic deal with the Vatican to build Christian churches in the Kingdom, a potentially stunning development for the country that’s home to Islam’s holiest site, Middle Eastern media is reporting.
The move would continue the nation’s effort to transition to a “moderate Islam.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdel Karim Al-Issa of the Muslim World League and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, allegedly signed the agreement April 14, according to the Egyptian Independent.
Under the agreement, a joint committee with representatives from both parties will also be established to organize future meetings, which will alternate between Rome and a city chosen by the Islamic World League.
“During my meetings, I insisted very much…that Christians and non-Muslims are spoken of well in schools and that they are never considered second-class citizens,” Tauran told the Vatican News, adding that he believes Saudi authorities wanted “to show that even in Saudi Arabia there is the possibility of discussion, and therefore of changing the country’s image.”
Tauran’s trip was also the first time the Saudi king met with such a high-profile official from the Vatican.
Inspired by the rigorous doctrine of Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the region that bans the building of churches and all forms of open Christian worship. Home to Islam’s holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, the move would no doubt spark outrage among Islamic hardliners. But the Vatican has urged the country to build Christian churches since a large number of foreign workers who identify as Christian are now forced to cross the border to find places where they can worship.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been pushing a reform agenda called Vision 2030, aimed at weaning the country off oil and introducing social changes, such as permitting public concerts, building movie theaters and allowing women to drive.