Maronite Christian Patriarch of Lebanon Bechara Boutros al-Rahi has made an unprecedented visit to Saudi Arabia, known as the only country in the world without a church building.
The trip by the top leader of the influential Maronite community in once Christian-majority Lebanon came amid tensions between Riyadh and Beirut that have prompted threats of war from both sides.
Rahi’s visit appears to underscore the dramatic transformation the Saudi kingdom is experiencing under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Patriarch Rahi made the trip to Riyadh as the crown prince is in the process of implementing groundbreaking reforms to the kingdom’s political and strictly conservative Islamic policies.
“This visit is considered historic because it marks the first Maronite Patriarch to visit the kingdom,” reports Al Arabiya. “Rahi is also expected to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit.
“Sources close to the Maronite Patriarch said that Rahi will confirm with Riyadh his policy to distance himself from conflicts in the region,” it adds.
Open Doors USA, which monitors the oppression of Christians across the world, has deemed the persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority Saudi Arabia as “very high,” noting:
The overall persecution situation in Saudi Arabia is characterized by strong societal and governmental pressure on converts to Christianity in a country where citizens are expected to be Muslims. The number of Christian converts from Islam and other religions is increasing, along with boldness in sharing their new faith. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world without any church buildings, an indication of the level to which both public and private life are defined by Islam.
Established as a sanctuary for Christians in the Middle East, a Muslim migrant wave largely fueled by Syria and low birth rates have contributed to the significant the drop in the religious group’s majority population status in Lebanon and placed their future in peril.
On November 1, Waleed Bukhari, a prominent Saudi diplomat, personally invited the Maronite patriarch to visit the Sunni kingdom and meet the king and the crown prince.
The invitation came a few days before Lebanon’s former Sunni Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned via a broadcast from Saudi Arabia, citing a plot to kill him.
Hariri’s announcement has thrust Lebanon’s coalition government into disarray.
Unlike in any other Middle Eastern nation, Christians get to share power with Lebanon’s Shiites and Sunnis.
The constitution requires the speaker of parliament to be a Shiite Muslim, the prime minister a Sunni, and the president a Christian, representing all major religious groups in the country.
Lebanon’s Christian president tends to be a Maronite; the Shiite speaker is typically a member of Shiite Iran’s narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah, arguably the most influential official political party in Lebanon; and the Sunni PM is affiliated with Saudi Arabia.
Hezbollah has accused Saudi Arabia of declaring war on Lebanon, accusing Riyadh of forcing Hariri to destabilize the country.
Meanwhile, a top kingdom official says Lebanon’s ruling “party of the devil” Hezbollah has called for war on Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon may soon join Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain as the epicenter of the Middle East proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.