VATICAN CITY: The Vatican and Malaysia have established official diplomatic ties, the Holy See announced today after talks between Pope Benedict XVI and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, according to an AFP report today.
“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 a statement.
Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country of around 28 million people, is the 179th country to have diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
Some nine percent of Malaysians are Christian, including 850,000 Catholics. Last month, Najib met with Malaysian church leaders in a bid to ease religious tensions stirred by a report that alleged Christians wanted to replace Islam as the official religion.
The row is one of a string of religious disputes in recent years that have raised fears among minorities that the country is being “Islamised” and that their rights are being eroded.
Religion and language are sensitive issues in multi-racial Malaysia.
A Malaysian government official told AFP on condition of anonymity that there are political concerns that the move to establish ties with the Vatican would be criticised by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
Earlier, Najib today met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Pope’s summer residence at the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome, reports Bernama.
Najib’s audience with Pope Benedict took place soon after his arrival at the palace overlooking a beautiful lake on a hot Italian summer day.
Following the private meeting, Najib introduced members of his entourage, including his wife Rosmah Mansor, to the Pope.
Najib later presented the Pope with gifts in the form of a book titled “Najib” and a framed songket embroidery.
Both of them were later joined by Rosmah and members of the Malaysian delegation for a group photograph.
Najib was then ushered into a separate room for a delegation meeting with Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Najib brought along with him a multi-faith entourage including Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department Koh Tsu Koon and Jamil Khir Baharom, and Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok.
They were joined by National Fatwa Council chairman Prof Abdul Shukor Husin and Archbishop Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam.
It was the second meeting between a Malaysian prime minister and the Pope after the one involving former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Pope John Paul in June 2002.
The Pope is the 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.