Pope agrees diplomatic relations with KL

By Tuesday July 19th, 2011 No Comments

Malaysia and the Vatican have agreed to establish formal diplomatic relations, it was announced yesterday.

Pope Benedict XVI had a 25-minute audience with prime minister Najib Razak, the second meeting between a pontiff and an incumbent Malaysian leader.

“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,” the Vatican said in statement released after the meeting.

Najib’s office also commented on the meeting. “The world is at a crossroads, the forces of irrationality and discord are threatening our long-cherish and hard-gained stability, and prosperity,” the statement said, adding that the Holy See recognised Malaysia’s commitment to promote moderation as a global doctrine.

Although the effort to establish diplomatic ties began almost 20 years ago, and then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad visited the Vatican and met Pope John Paul II in 2002, the momentum built following the installation last May of Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli as Vatican ambassador to Singapore and with responsibilities throughout Southeast Asia. He quickly arranged for an early meeting date.

The head of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Murphy Xavier Pakiam, was in the prime minister’s party at the pope’s Castel Gandolfo summer residence south of Rome.

Media in Kuala Lumpur have said Najib told the pope of his aim of a ‘global movement of moderates’.

The Vatican statement said: “ The political and social situation in the world and on the Asian continent was reviewed, with particular reference to the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue for the promotion of peace, justice and greater understanding between peoples.”

But there was no indication of whether recent treatment of Christians in Malaysia, who have been subject to a number of restrictions and attacks on places of worship, was discussed.

In late March the Malaysian government called off a plan to put serial numbers on bibles printed in the Malay language following a threatened protest by Christians throughout the country.

In return for releasing some 35,100 impounded bibles, the home ministry wanted to stamp each one with a serial number to control its circulation and a message saying it is for Christian use only.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia has called for “revoking all orders made under the Internal Security Act 1960, which have declared the Alkitab (Malay-language bible) as a threat to national security.”

The US recently expressed concern about Malaysians’ ability to “freely express their democratic aspirations” following more than 1,600 arrests at a demonstration advocating electoral reform in the centre of Kuala Lumpur on July 9.

Catholics comprise around 3.5 percent of Muslim-majority Malaysia’s population, the largest Christian grouping.

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