Papal visit will boost relations with Malaysia

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Recently, Pope Francis made a visit to the Philippines and celebrated an open-air mass which was attended by an unprecedented 5 million of the faithful, a record for any papal visit.  Pope Francis’ popularity can be traced to his humble demeanour, openness and for his championing the cause of the downtrodden, women’s rights and for those sections of society that have been discriminated against.

Pope Francis’ statements are observed closely and his pronouncements on international issues are given much consideration, more so than his predecessors.

The Argentine pope has cultivated a friendly image with the global audience, and is well liked by world leaders and religious heads.  He is a popular pope and many nations are keep to invite him to visit their countries.

As such Malaysia could invite Pope Francis to visit the country in the near future. Malaysia has a large community of Christians in both West and East Malaysia, and the pontiff’s visit will be very meaningful and significant.  

It has been 57 years since Malaysia gained independence and no pope has visited the country although Malaysia has established diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and Pope Francis is represented here by the Papal Nuncio.

Presently, relations between Christians and Muslims are a bit frayed over some issues and the pope’s visit could mend relations and bring back amity and goodwill between the two communities. The East Malaysian Christians could be longing and expecting a papal visit now that the Pope has visited a neighboring country, the Philippines in January.

Additionally, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is pushing forward his concept of moderation as a means to resolving various international issues, and with Malaysia’s election to the UN Security Council for the 2015-2016 term the moderation concept could become the centrepiece of Malaysia’s policy.

Pope Francis’ endorsement of Malaysia’s moderation concept could add weight to Malaysia’s voice and final greater acceptance as he is the leader of a global community of more than a billion Catholics.

Malaysia has much to gain from a Papal visit, more so during the present time when there is a need to repair and foster good relations among the country’s diverse communities. Unlike the Dalai Lama’s meeting with world leaders which arouses China’s criticism of the Tibetan leader, Pope Francis has always steered clear of political issues during his travels.

Further, it will be good if the federal and state governments could declare Good Friday a public holiday.  

Presently, only Sabah and Sarawak observe this. Some states in West Malaysia, which have a larger number of Christians such as Penang and Selangor as well as Kuala Lumpur, could begin this process.  

The government has been magnanimous in granting public holidays for some minor festivals and it is hoped that in the same goodwill spirit Good Friday, too, could be declared a public holiday. Good Friday, which this year falls on April 3, if declared a public holiday will be a boon to Christian students and workers to attend church services.

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