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Pope to Meet Saudi Monarch

Abdullah is on a European tour and Benedict has been trying to increase dialogue between Catholics and Muslims.

The Vatican and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but the Holy See has ties with many other Islamic nations.

Saudi Arabia follows a strict interpretation of Islam that rejects the possibility of diplomatic relations with a Christian entity. This interpretation would prohibit a Vatican embassy in Saudi Arabia on the grounds it would be equivalent to raising the cross inside the site of Islam’s holiest places.

It is forbidden to practice Christianity inside Saudi Arabia , and it is illegal to bring symbols from religions other than Islam into the country. Bibles and crosses, for instance, are confiscated at the border.

The Vatican has repeatedly stressed its demands for “reciprocity” — meaning that countries such as Saudi Arabia should ease limits on worship by Christians and other non-Muslims.

Church relations with Muslims were badly strained last year after a speech by the pontiff that linked Islam to violence. Benedict later said he regretted that Muslims were offended by his remarks, and the Vatican has since tried to improve relations with Muslims.