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Vatican opens first embassy in Malaysia
Publication Date : 18-01-2013
The Vatican has opened its first embassy in Malaysia and appointed an American Archbishop to be the ambassador here, after the Holy See and Malaysia established diplomatic ties in 2011.
According to a press statement by the Apostolic Nunciature of Malaysia, Pope Benedict XVI on January 16 appointed Archbishop Joseph Marino as the Apostolic Nuncio, or ambassador, to Malaysia and to Timor Leste, as well as Apostolic Delegate to Brunei Darussalam. He will be based in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia is the 179th state to establish diplomatic ties with the Holy See.
The embassy opening comes at a time when the Malaysian government's relations with the church has been rocky, particularly over the church's use of "Allah" to refer to the Christian god. Many Muslims say only they should be able to use the term "Allah".
Archbishop Marino, who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in the United States, was previously the Vatican's ambassador to Bangladesh and had served in several embassies including the Philippines, Uruguay and Nigeria.
"He is expected to arrive in Malaysia within these two months," Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Catholic church's newspaper, The Herald, told The Straits Times.
About 10 per cent of Malaysia's population are Christians, with the majority Catholic and living in Sabah and Sarawak.
The Vatican's first embassy here stems from Prime Minister Najib Razak's meeting with the Pope in Rome in July 2011. The visit was seen as a move to repair frayed ties between the church and the Malaysian government over the "Allah" issue.
However, the debate over the use of "Allah" is back on the table, with politicians and religious leaders arguing whether non-Muslims have the right to use "Allah" in their religious practices, particularly for Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, most of whom read the Bible in Malay.
The Prime Minister's Office and Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Murphy Nicholas Xavier Pakiam, the head of the Catholic church in Malaysia, could not be reached for comment.