Mahathir should invite  Pope John Paul II to visit Malaysia to pave the way for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Vatican

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday) The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should invite Pope  John Paul  II when he meets the Pontiff on June 7 to visit Malaysia to pave the way for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Vatican. 

The Holy See  has formal diplomatic relations with 172 nations, including many Islamic countries like Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, Turkey, Pakistan and  Kuwait.  In Asia, countries which have diplomatic relations with the Vatican include Japan, South Korea, India,  Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.   

The Vatican is also accorded international recognition  and participates in a wide range of United Nations activities since 1946, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific  and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), World Trade Organisattion (WTO), World Health Organisation (WHO), International Labour Organisation (ILO), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and a long list of others.   

In his 24 years as Pope, John Paul II had traveled to over 115 countries, including some 25 Muslim countries and has emerged as the single greatest moral force for the promotion of inter-religious understanding and dialogue as well as the  rapprochement between Christians and Muslims through numerous  inter-religious conferences organized by the Vatican and the three   Assisi “Prayer for Peace”  world gathering of religious leaders from all faiths convoked by the Pope, the latest on January 24 this year in the birthplace of St. Francis , the Saint most associated with peace, in the aftermath of September 11 attacks. 

Before and after September 11, no other non-Muslim leader, whether religious, political or academic,  has done more than John Paul II in his consistent, constant and tireless efforts for over two decades  to reach out to Islam and met more Muslim leaders to promote inter-faith relations  and to seek a just and peaceful settlement of the Palestinian conflict. 

In Damascus last year, John Paul II became the first pope to enter a mosque, the 8th century A.D. Umayyad Mosque, and took part in another “first” where Muslims and Christians prayed together in an organized way, with the pope leading Christian prayers while the Muslim part of the ceremony was  conducted by the Mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmed Kataro.   

John Paul II has issued regular messages to mark the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and other religion’s festivals. At the start of the Ramadan fast last year on December 14, the Pope called on the world’s one billion Catholics to fast for one day as a gesture of solidarity and peace. 

In this connection, the article in Mingguan Malaysia yesterday by Dr. Saodah Abd. Rahman, a lecturer at the Jabatan Usuludin dan Perbandingan Agama,  International Islamic University, Malaysia, who attended  the  Third Christian Muslim Colloquium at the Facolare Movement International Convention Centre at Castlegandolfo, Rome in 1998 and the Inter-religious Assembly on the Eve of the Third Millennium on the  theme Collaboration Among the Different Religions at Pontificium Consilium pro Dailogo Inter-Religiones  in 1999, bear noteworthy testimony. 

It would be wrong, however, to view Mahathir’s meeting with the Pope purely as a Muslim-Christian meeting as Malaysia is the home  of all the great religions in the world.  

While Mahathir’s meeting with the Pope is not an epochal global event, the meeting of the Malaysian Prime Minister and the Pope  is undoubtedly  an important and even momentous development  for multi-religious Malaysia.  

Mahathir said in London in February this year that  Malaysia was not ready for an inter-faith organisation and dialogues.  This  is one of the greatest failures of the 44-year Malaysian nation-building process, as Malaysia should be in the international forefront in pioneering and promoting inter-religious and inter-civilisational dialogues because of the country’s unique position as the confluence of the great religions and civilizations in the world. 

In the meeting on Friday, Mahathir should explore with  the Pope the possibility of  co-operation between Malaysia and the Vatican to promote inter-religious and inter-civilizational dialogues to a  higher  and more focused international level, making full use of Malaysia’s rich cultural and religious diversity and heritage – as a positive contribution to world peace and inter-religious and inter-civilizational understanding. 


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman