The meeting in Rome on Tuesday between Pope Benedict XVI and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was a surprise given that it is illegal to publicly practice Christianity in the desert kingdom. Saudi Arabia has existing strong links with the Eternal City having funded the building of its main mosque.
At the first meeting between a Pope and a Saudi monarch, the two discussed the need for greater collaboration between Christians, Muslims and Jews and prospects for a Middle East peace. A Vatican statement said “the presence and hard work of Christians (in Saudi Arabia) was discussed” – seen as a clear reference to the Vatican’s concern over the Christian minority.
In Saudi, December is the busiest month for the religious police , the muttawa - officially known as the Committee for Preventing Vice and Enforcing Virtue. The muttawa try to ensure that traders do not sell anything that could be regarded as a Christmas decoration. Filipinos are particular targets during the Christmas period.
While religions other than Islam are viewed with suspicion, it's preferable to have one for visa purposes.
On one occasion, the Saudi embassy in Brussels rejected a business visa application, as the applicant had entered "none" in the religion box.
Credit is due to King Abdullah for taking a step that can only be viewed as positive.