Najib then presented the Pope with gifts in the form of a book titled Najib and a framed songket embroidery...
Mission accomplishedPublished on: August 04, 2011 at 17:12 PM
Tan Sri Bernard Dompok being greeted by His Holiness after being introduced by Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak at the Castel Gondolfo, the Holy Father’s summer residence.
TAN Sri Bernard Dompok, the Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, was a member of a top level Malaysian delegation headed by the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, for an audience with His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI on July 18, 2011. Several media organisations had since asked Dompok, who is also Upko president, to share his thoughts about the trip. Due to a tight schedule, he spoke instead with former journalist, Albert Bingkasan , who is now his Special Officer in the ministry in Putrajaya.
Bingkasan: Good morning Tan Sri. Please kindly walk us through the Vatican programme?
Dompok: Bingkasan, good morning. The July 18 audience was at the Pope’s summer residence at the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gendolfo, outside Rome, which is about 45 minutes drive from our accommodation, the Westin Exclesior Hotel. We arrived there at about 11.00am, and soon after, Pope Benedict granted the Prime Minister a private meeting.
After that, Datuk Seri introduced his entourage, namely his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, Ministers in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, National Fatwa Council chairman Prof Tan Sri Dr Abdul Shukor Husin, Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam and myself.
Najib then presented the Pope with gifts in the form of a book titled Najib and a framed songket embroidery, followed by a group photograph. Later they ushered us into a separate room for a delegation meeting with Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. We left Castel Gondolfo at about 12.30pm.
It has been reported that the audience’s main agenda was to formalise diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Holy See. Could you elaborate?
Dompok: July 18 will be remembered as the day when diplomatic ties between Malaysia and the Holy See materialised. The journey however started about nine years ago. It was 2002, and the then Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir Mohamad led a delegation for an audience with the late Pope John Paul II. I was there, and diplomatic relations was top of the agenda.
At that time, personally, I was hoping the ties would be formalised sooner rather than later. I was very sad when Pope Paul II passed away in 2005, partly because what we had discussed three years earlier remained just that, a discussion.
What was the problem?
Dompok: I suppose the “delay” if any, was due to a mixture of reasons. I do know, however, that our top leadership had always been very positive to the idea. And Malaysia actually had been very friendly with the Vatican.
That was why, the then Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi asked me to head a Malaysian delegation to represent the country for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The event itself was an experience of a lifetime, but that’s a story for another day.
It must be a real joy for you, sir, to see the completion of the 2002 efforts?
Dompok: Yes, I am indeed very happy. Being Catholic, I am more than hopeful that the significant event will spur further progress for our country and the world. On a personal basis, it is kind of sentimental for me, there is a sense of fulfillment.
I was there when it was first mooted officially, and now, it is complete. It is a mission accomplished, so to speak. I thank Datuk Seri Najib and his predecessors for keeping alive all these while the dreams and wishes of the Christian communities and the Catholics in particular.
For the Prime Minister it is a foreign policy shift just as his father steered the country to recognise China.
Hopeful? The issues that come to mind include solution to the ban for non-Muslims to use the name Allah, the confiscation of Alkitab and apostasy.
Dompok: First of all, we have to take note that the “Allah” and Alkitab issues are still in court. We all know the story. Suffice here for me to reiterate my stand, my party’s resolution in calling for the court to resolve the issues soon. It has been dragging too long.
Secondly, while we hail the diplomatic ties, we must also be pragmatic. Such relations do not have magical powers. But I am confident, the ties is a move in the right direction in our efforts to mould and come up with a real One Malaysia community. Problems concerning ethnic relations, religious freedom and the likes could from now onwards be seen in a broader perspective.
We must also remember that our country is still maturing. There will be hiccups here and there. What matters is for us to continue learning, strengthen our unity, work hard and be focussed in what we have all agreed to achieve.
We have the Rukun Negara as our guide, and many other pointers, the latest being the diplomatic ties with Vatican. If we are sincere enough, we will get the desired result for the betterment of all.
Tan Sri, you had the privilege of meeting two Popes. How was it?
Dompok: I am indeed blessed with the opportunity to have met with the head of the Catholic Church. Meeting them, two of them, was a dream come true. It is an experience of a life time.
When I met Pope John Paul II nine years ago, I was filled with joy. You are before holiness itself. And when I left, I felt exhilarated.
That’s also how I felt on July 18. It is hard to express in words. But the feeling is real. In both encounters, I also asked the Holy Father to bless me and the Rosaries I had with me. It was very touching, and one that I will always treasure in my life.
The Internet had been abuzz with the visit, Tan Sri. Many were hoping the audience will somehow also transform the Malaysian leaders for the better. Is that a fair comment?
Dompok: I cannot possibly speak on their behalf. I do know that the Prime Minister was very happy with the audience. He was able to bring forward his agenda for the moderates to claim ownership of the middle ground in a world where conflicts abound.
He was also captivated by the scenery, particularly the lake fronting the Castel Gondolfo. It is summer time there now.
On hindsight, the visit brought together leaders from different religious beliefs. Archbishop Pakiam had a good chat with Datuk Seri Jamil and Prof Tan Sri Dr Abdul Shukor. Such meeting would not have happened easily if not for the visit. That in itself is an achievement, a blessing. - Herald Malaysia Online, 4/8/2011