Pope receives first Resident Malaysian Ambassador to the Holy See

Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, the country’s first resident ambassador to the Holy See, had an official audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican yesterday.

Jun 10, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR: Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, the country’s first resident ambassador to the Holy See, had an official audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican yesterday.

During a private audience in the Vatican on Thursday morning, Ambassador Dompok presented his Credentials.

The Ambassador is the former minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities in Malaysia and prior to that he was Chief Minister of the State of Sabah.

Born in 1949 in what was then British North Borneo, Dompok received his education at the mission schools of St. Michael and La Salle Secondary School before graduating at the University of East London.

His appointment as the country’s first resident ambassador to the Holy See was announced on 22 March 2016; however he has been credited with being instrumental in laying the groundwork for the establishment of diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 2011.

In a conversation with Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni, Ambassador Dompok speaks of the how the establishment of formal ties between Malaysia and the Holy See came about and what he hopes his contribution will be in his new role.

Ambassador Dompok explains that the establishment of formal relations between his country and the Holy See goes back some time. He says he had the privilege to be present during discussions held with the former Apostolic Nuncio who was resident in Bangkok , and who had been coming to Malaysia and meeting with politicians and his counterparts in the hope of setting up diplomatic ties during the Papacy Saint John Paul II, and he speaks of the general feeling that “the people he met were very keen to do so”.

However, he says, the opportune moment arose only some years later when Prime Minister Najib took a serious stand regarding the issue and together with Dompok, which whom he had served on the Federal Cabinet for more than a decade, came to visit Pope Benedict XVI at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo in 2011 where it all came to a “happy ending” with the formal establishment of diplomatic ties.

The Ambassador explains that the process has taken a long time because Malaysia is a diverse and complex nation with a vast multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious reality.

“We have 60% Muslims, 30% Buddhists, Hindus and so on, and only about 10% - and a bit – Christians, and of that 10% about half of them are Catholics” he says.

He says time was needed to understand that having diplomatic ties with the Vatican will actually “convey to the world a nation that is confident of itself and is willing to take part in the world conversation”.

In fact he points out that Malaysia has much to contribute in experience to the development of inter-religious dialogue.

He speaks of how Malaysia and its ‘bigger’ neighbor, Indonesia, which both have a majority Muslim population, have much to teach the world in this sense and that, although there may be challenges and problems “we are still able to overcome most of them in order to make it possible for all races to live together”.

Dompok speaks of the current Prime Minister’s campaign to encourage “a movement of moderates” trying to rally people together to understand that communities cannot live in isolation and that those with more moderate views have a responsibility to work for peaceful dialogue.

The Ambassador says that extremism is a problem throughout the world and expresses his belief that the only way to overcome the fanaticism that leads to terrorism is to engage in reasoning and dialogue.

One of Ambassador Dompok’s core concerns is the promotion of education. “I wouldn’t be here today, speaking to you” he says “if I hadn’t the opportunity to go to a Mission school”.

And so important has Catholic education been in Malaysia, he says, that it has impacted society and empowered the people like nothing else.

“Catholics came to Borneo Island on the back of education. It was education first and then the spreading of the good news!” he says.

He explains that back home, at this moment in time, the Government has had to take over the running of the Mission schools as they have no funding and it is his concern that the Mission fathers be empowered once again.

“The Church, and the related organizations of the Church, have a vast amount of resources – not fixed assets – but expertise: people in the Church have been in education for a long time (…) and some of this can be transported to the rest of the world” he says.

Education – Ambassador Dompok believes – is the most precious tool for people in developing nations to overcome poverty, and he says one of his main appeals to people in the Vatican would certainly be to support this belief and to engage in the commitment to promote education for peace and development.--Vatican Radio

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