Monday, July 18, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI meets Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Monday 18th July 2011

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI met Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak around 11 am local time on Monday, 18th July 2011 at the Papal summer residence at the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandalfo, south of Rome, Italy.

This is the second such meeting between a Malaysian Prime Minister and His Holiness after the June 2002 meeting between the late Pope John Paul II and the then Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the Vatican.

Accompanying Najib on Monday 18th July 2011 was a multi-faith entourage, including Ministers in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, and Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok who is a Catholic.

They were joined by National Fatwa Council chairman Professor Tan Sri Dr Abdul Shukor Husin and Malaysian Catholic Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam.

After the audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Najib subsequently met with the Holy See Secretary of State, His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone who was accompanied by His Excellency Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States.

The Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the world and ruler of both Vatican City State and Holy See.

The Holy See is the universal government of the Catholic Church and operates from Vatican City State, a sovereign, independent territory of 0.44 sq km.

Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th and current Pope.

This event is seen as a major event for the 850,000 Catholics community in Malaysia to have their Prime Minister meeting the head of their church.

There is no doubt the Western world has begun to take note of Najib as a Muslim leader of reason and moderation and the visit certainly reinforces that.

Besides, Pope Benedict XVI is known as the “peace Pope” and a strong opponent of war and had unreservedly criticised the US-led invasion of Iraq, where he had said that “the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save”.

The Pope, as one Catholic church official put it, meets a lot of people but meeting a head of state often assumes a bigger meaning.

“Not every political leader gets to meet the Pope, so those he meets, it is like a kind of implicit endorsement,” said the church official.

For instance, every one wants to meet US President Barack Obama but when the most powerful leader of the Western world met the Pope a year after he was elected president, he described it as “a great honour”.

It was that big, even for the US president and received massive play-up in the US media.

For the record, the Catholic church is the largest Christian grouping in the world with more than one billion members and it is among the world's oldest institutions.

The prime minister's wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, accompanied her husband on the trip.

In the cordial conversations the positive developments in bilateral relations were discussed, and an agreement was reached to establish diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Holy See.

In addition, the political and social situation in the world and on the Asian Continent was reviewed, with particular reference t the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue for the promotion of peace, justice and greater understanding between peoples.

After the meeting, The Star, Malaysia's top English newspaper reports that Malaysia has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with the Holy See aimed at promoting bonds of mutual friendship and strengthening international cooperation.

The link between Kuala Lumpur and Vatican allows the formation of relations at ambassadorial level on the part of Malaysia and at the level of Apostolic Nunciatune on the part of the Holy See.

The move follows the footsteps of other Muslim-majority nations such as Indonesia, Iraq, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, the Arab League and majority members of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that already established diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

Earlier, Najib was given a guard of honour and a red carpet welcome at the heavily guarded Castel Gandolfo, a small Italian town, south of Rome where the Pope spends the summer.

In the meeting with the Pope, Najib put forth his concept for a “Global Movement of Moderates” initiative to counter extremism of all forms.

He said as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, Malaysia has drawn on the values of moderation to ensure continued harmony, stability and prosperity.

Najib added that Malaysia was keen on sharing its experience with the world and that was why Malaysia was committed to forging links and alliances with like-minded countries to promote world peace and harmony.

“This is the main reason why Malaysia established diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

“The world is at the crossroads, the forces of irrationality and discord are threatening our long-cherished and hard-gained stability, and prosperity.

“What is worst is that certain quarters use religion to justify acts of terrorism,” he said.

Najib said Malaysia and the Holy See were committed to surmount such negative forces by employing the powers of reason and moderation.

Commenting on the significane of the visit, Jesuit Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald, a Catholic Weekly in Malaysia said:

“The significance is the recognition of Christians in Malaysia in a multi-racial nation, there’s always been that question whether we are recognised as a group and recognising the Vatican is a recognition of the Christians and therefore is an important step forward”.

“Once this happens of course the other Christians will benefit, and also I’m sure that when we are given this recognition there will be a necessity for the government to see a moderation. We hope that there will be this inter-faith development taking place”.

Malaysia, where Christians make up 9 percent of the population, was one of 16 countries without diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

While Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, the right to freedom of religion is enshrined in its Constitution.

There are about 850,000 Catholics in Malaysia, which has a population of 28 million.

In June 2002, then Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad also had a meeting with the late Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

The meeting was held to talk and discuss Muslim-Christian relations, in the aftermath of the worst ever terrorists attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001, by Muslim Al Qaeda miliants.

After the meeting Tun Mahathir and Pope John Paul II exchange gifts, with Dr Mahathir giving Pope John Paul II a tiny gold carriage and John Paul II presenting Dr Mahathir with medals of his pontificate.

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