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from issue no. 10 - 2007

A conversation with the Apostolic Vicar to Saudi Arabia, Paul Hinder

«It could not have happened some years ago»

Interview with Paul Hinder by Giovanni Cubeddu

«As pastor I say that the meeting between King Abdullah and Pope Benedict XVI was an important event indeed, that will contribute to creating a more tranquil climate between our two religions and also, I hope, may be of aid to the substantial minority of Christians who live in Saudi Arabia. Obviously I don’t think that everything will rapidly change, but the simple fact that there has been contact at the highest level is a very strong sign of the will to reach a certain understanding, and, who knows, deeper collaboration. Now, in terms of the consequences, that we can describe as political – because as regards our daily situation in the Apostolic Vicariate it would obviously be premature in this moment to risk making forecasts – I will try on my part to do everything in my power... maybe by establishing some further contact, in so far as possible. We shall see». These were the first comments from the Apostolic Vicar for Saudi Arabia, the Capuchin Paul Hinder, on the images of Pope Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Vatican Palace with the Custodian of the Muslim Holy Places.

In the center, the Apostolic Vicar  
Paul Hinder at an inter-religious conference on the subject of tolerance, Abu Dhabi, 23 January 2007

In the center, the Apostolic Vicar Paul Hinder at an inter-religious conference on the subject of tolerance, Abu Dhabi, 23 January 2007

How might this meeting turn out to be the first step of a new series of openings?
PAUL HINDER: I hope that at least in the Sunni world a change in the attitude of Saudi Arabia can have external repercussions, while until now the other brother countries were the first to move. In the Arabian Peninsula, all or nearly all the other States have already, for example, diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and officially allow the existence of Christian places of worship in their countries. But, a change of the Saudi position could really get rid of fears in other countries that up to now have always been careful not to displease the Saudis. Now we’re hoping in something new.
Might the Vicariate see positive collaboration between Muslims and Christians in daily life also?
HINDER: I don’t live in Saudi Arabia, and first of all I will myself have to try to find the right channels through which to contact those who have the sensibility to receive and transmit the most fitting message to the consignees. One always moves by small steps and it’s well to do so. And if we were ever to improve, always in small steps, the pastoral care of at least a part of our Christians out there, I would take it a sign that hope is driving out fear. It would already be a great surge forward.
Have you chanced to hear any comment, in the Vicariate, about this visit of the King to the Pope?
HINDER: Our Christians here in the Emirates, reading the news in the papers and seeing the photos of the King bearing gifts to the Pope, have described the meeting as «a beautiful sign»; they hope «that it bear fruit». As for me, various diplomats have already made references to it, and I’ve noticed a certain degree of hope in them. In short, things are happening today that could not have happened some years ago.

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