PM Najib says the Pope made an exception to meet him. He also calls on adherents of different faiths to have mutual respect.
He also expressed gratitude to Pope Benedict for granting him an audience during the latter’s holiday.
“He made an exception to meet with me. I met with Pope Benedict because I wanted to show that we are an inclusive government,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama.
Najib met with Pope Benedict at the summer place of the pontiff at Castel Gandolfo near Rome.
The premier also said that Pope Benedict was receptive to the idea of the Global Movement of the Moderates to counter extremism initiated by him (Najib).
The visit came amidst numerous unresolved issues back home such as the dispute over the use of the word Allah, the seizure of Malay-language bibles and the alleged Christian plot to undermine the position of Islam here.
While political observers suggested that Najib’s visit was to score points with the Christian community here, others suggested that it would do little to repair his image.
Respect the Islamic leadership
Meanwhile, the prime minister also said that adherents of any religion in the country should accord respect to other religions before they could expect to be respected in turn.
He said the government could engage with those who loved peace and respected the Islamic leadership.
“We accept them. We can engage with them. We can have dialogue with them because we want to uphold peace in this world,” he added.
On the visit to Rome, Najib brought along a delegation of leaders of various religions who held discussions with the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Included in the delegation were Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department Koh Tsu Koon and Jamil Khir Baharom, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok, Chairman of the National Fatwa (Edict) Council Prof Abdul Shukor Husin and Archbishop Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam.
Najib’s meeting with Pope Benedict was the second between a Malaysian prime minister and the pope. Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad met with Pope John Paul II in June 2002.