ROME: Building bridges across communities through inter-faith dialogues is one of Pope Francis’ main priorities, said Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam.
The President said this is an area where Singapore can “share its experience with the Vatican”, during a briefing with reporters on Sunday (May 29) after he concluded a week-long state visit to Italy and the Holy See.
Dr Tan had received a pontifical audience with Pope Francis earlier this week, the first ever for a Singaporean President. He also met Secretary of State of the Holy See Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who visited Singapore in 2015.
“For Singapore, racial and religious harmony is fundamental not only to our progress but to our very existence,” he said. “And from the start there was a great deal of emphasis on building bridges across communities. It’s been going on for so many years in Singapore that sometimes we take it for granted. But if you look at the world around us, this is quite an exception to the rule.”
Dr Tan added that while Singapore was “not insulated” from radical influences, her approach to handling the issue is “possibly a little bit different from other countries”.
“We look at it not as a security problem but in a holistic way, which involves ideological issues, social issues, family issues,” he said. “And our religious rehabilitation group is playing a great deal – it includes Muslim clerics who talk to those who have been affected by these radical teachings on the Internet.”
POPE INVITED TO VISIT SINGAPORE
Dr Tan said Pope Francis was “very keen” to learn more and “to see how we integrated the different communities together”, while he updated the Pope on the major role played by the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore in the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony, working with other communities to build religious and racial harmony.
During the meeting, the President highlighted to the Pope the valuable contributions the Catholic Church has made to Singapore’s development, including in the areas of education, healthcare and social welfare. He also invited Pope Francis to visit Singapore, something he said the Pope was pleased to accept.
Looking ahead, Dr Tan said he sees growth in the relationship between Singapore and the Vatican, with the Catholic Church playing a very important role “not only within the Catholic community but also among wider society in Singapore”.
“That’s very fundamental for us, and that’s something we can share with the rest of the world,” Dr Tan said.