Najib, say religious leaders, must do more than shake hands with the Holy See. He must resolve the outstanding issues.
PETALING JAYA: The dispute over the term Allah, the seizure of Malay-language bibles and more recently, the controversy surrounding an alleged Christian plot to undermine the status of Islam here have led to tension brewing between the Church and the government.
Amidst these unresolved issues, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak landed in the Vatican for an audience with the Pope yesterday.
Asked if this would resurrect Najib’s image among the Christian community here, the majority of whom are Catholics, the response was in the negative.
The editor of the Catholic weekly, Herald, Father Lawrence Andrew told FMT that mere images (photographs of the meeting) alone would not resolve the outstanding issues.
“To think like that, one is not looking at history at all. You can’t just go over there and change your profile. Meeting the Pope will not change your profile.
“You earn your stature on honesty and dedication,” he told FMT.
He added that the Church and the government had a long relationship and Najib’s trip was merely officiating the historically established ties.
However, Andrew noted that the visit, if seen in the bigger picture, would have a positive impact on Malaysia.
“If you only focus on Najib, then the visit becomes political and you have missed the point. Establishing official relationship with the Vatican is good as Malaysia is able to move some negative values to positive ones,” he said.
“One such issue is the death penalty. The Vatican is against it. Through diplomatic relationship there is an opportunity for us to dialogue on the matter and recognise human dignity,” he added.
Replicate the message back home
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) said Najib’s visit had “little local significance” as there are many pending issues involving the Christians and those of other faiths.
“It not only concerns the Christian community but all Malaysians. No doubt, there are many outstanding issues still,” said its president Reverend Thomas Philips.
“The Allah issue for example, the attorney-general has appealed on the matter and the issue is still pending. One action (of visiting the Pope) will not create an impact. All these (pending) national issues need to be addressed and resolved,” he added.
Philips said while Najib’s visit projected Malaysia as a moderate nation in the eyes of the international audience, the PM’s challenge, however, was to replicate the message back home.
“The visit shows that Najib is willing to engage with the religious community internationally. But the PM has to go the extra mile to realise that message locally. There has yet to be a public religious interfaith council set up,” he added.
Vatican, Malaysia establish diplomatic ties