ROME: Malaysia has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with the Holy See, with the aim of promoting mutual friendship and strengthening international co-operation.
The formal pact was reached after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak met Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, yesterday at his Papal summer palace in Castel Gandolfo.
The link will allow 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 Conference (OIC).
Najib, who was accompanied by his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, was given a guard of honour and a red carpet welcome at the heavily guarded Castel Gandolfo, a small Italian town.
The move to have diplomatic ties with the Vatican started more than 20 yeas ago.
In May this year, the new Vatican Ambassador to Singapore Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli who also oversees the Catholic community in Malaysia, met with Malaysian government officials over possible bilateral relations with the Vatican.
In June, the Vatican gave a firm answer that a meeting date had been set between the Holy See and Najib.
In the meeting with the Pope, Najib put forth his concept for a “Global Movement of Moderates” initiative to counter extremism of all forms, adding that as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, Malaysia had drawn on the values of moderation to ensure continued harmony, stability and prosperity.
Malaysia, he said, was keen on sharing its experience with the world. “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 worse is that certain quarters use religion to justify acts of terrorism,” he said.
Najib said Malaysia and the Holy See were committed to surmounting such negative forces by employing the powers of reason and moderation.
He said the Holy See recognised Malaysia's commitment to promote moderation as a global doctrine.
Najib also raised the possibility of forging closer links with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and the Pontifical Institute Arab and Islamic Studies.
He was accompanied by Ministers in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok and National Fatwa Council chairman Tan Sri Dr Abdul Shukor Husin.
Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Murphy Xavier Pakiam was also there. He was chosen by the Bishops' conference to go to Vatican as head of the Catholic Church in Malaysia.
Pakiam said the establishment of the diplomatic relations brought the voice of moderation and the voice of peace and justice to a greater level.
Najib is the second Malaysian Prime Minister to meet a pope after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 2002.