Mahathir’s meeting with the Pope not an epochal global event but important and momentous development for multi-racial Malaysia

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday)DAP welcomes the Cabinet endorsement of the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s visit to the Vatican to meet Pope Paul John II on June 7, although this is a foregone conclusion once Mahathir had announced on Sunday that he had accepted the Pope’s invitation  

The Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to the Vatican should be seen  in the proper perspective. It is not an epochal global event in the relationship between Islam and Christianity as UMNO Youth claims, for in his 24 years as the Roman Pontiff, Paul John II had given the highest priority to the promotion of Catholic-Islamic dialogue, meeting with the highest religious Islamic authorities and visiting many Islamic countries.   

In May last year, Pope Paul John II created religious history when he entered the 8th century A.D. Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and  became the first leader of the Catholic Church to set foot inside a mosque and again created history when he 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.  

In the now-famous three Assisi gatherings of the world’s religious leaders convoked by the Pope at the birthplace of St. Francis since 1986, the most recent one to pray for peace on January  24 this year was focused on fostering Islam-Christianity understanding and dialogue in the aftermath of September 11.  

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. 

It is hoped that the Prime Minister’s visit will lead to the restoration of official support for inter-religious dialogue and the re-establishment of an inter-religious council, as the government had withdrawn support for an inter-religious council for over two decades – when in the first two decades of nationhood, official blessing and recognition was accorded to the operations of an inter-religious council headed by a Cabinet Minister.  

There is an important role for an inter-religious council in multi-religious Malaysia, not only to promote inter-religious co-existence, tolerance and understanding in addressing the many outstanding grievances of the various religious groups in the country but also to foster a joint commitment by all faiths to peace, justice, equitable development, democracy, human rights, good governance and honesty in private and public life.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman