In his first interview with the Malaysian media, the first resident diplomat sent by the Vatican to live and work in this country responded to the controversial issue of the use of the Arabic word, Allah, to describe god in any religion, as well as the very current hot button topic of religious conversions.
Archbishop Joseph Marino said he supports the stand of the Catholic Church in Malaysia.
He applauded the arguments made by the Christian Federation of Malaysia to use "Allah" in its texts to refer to God as very well done.
On conversions, he said that in itself was a "great mystery" because the attraction would differ from person to person.Archbishop Marino qualified that although the ongoing court case was an internal matter for Malaysia, he was in support of the Christian federation’s arguments for the term, saying they were “quite logical and acceptable”.
"If we are going to respect human dignity, we have to respect the conscience of the person in seeking God, it is a basic fundamental human right that needs to be respected and society needs to give space to all human beings in a pluralistic society," he added.
Archbishop Marino is the Apostolic Nuncio to Malaysia. This position, also often known as a papal nuncio, is the Vatican equivalent to an ambassador.
This is the first time the Vatican has opened what is the equivalent to an embassy in Malaysia. The Apostolic Nuncio said he liked being in Malaysia and was very warmly received by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong when he met the ruler to present his credentials.
On his experience as Apostolic Nuncio in Bangladesh before coming to Malaysia, the Apostolic Nuncio said that the first thing he learnt there was the beauty of Islam.
"It is indeed a religion of peace and harmony and its spiritual components of seeking God is profound. That was the joy that I had in my deep contact with Islam in a country that is predominantly Muslim. They also have great respect for Christians and other religions, and there is a real desire to have this true sense of conviviality," he said.
The diplomat said the only way to stop deterioration in race relations in Malaysia is through dialogue, saying it would work out if people sat down and talked.
Asked about his meeting with the bishops here, he said it was insightful and that the topics revolved around the pastoral reality of the church, namely on the life of the church, celebration of the sacraments, seminarians, religious life and the internal life of the church.
"Of course they mentioned that there are some questions pending in society about the usage of the word Allah and conversion, but the real focus was on the pastoral work of the church and how she was responding to the needs of the Catholic community," he said.
"The role of the Vatican ambassador is to support whatever the Bishops and the Christians are doing. I told the bishops I am willing to participate in their efforts, including in inter-religious dialogue.
"And inter-religious dialogue had nothing to do with conversion. We are not there to covert one another, we are children of God coming together to speak about our different experiences with God," he said.
Archbishop Marino said his priorities here would be in line with the basic values of the Holy See for the international community, which included religious freedom, human dignity and human life. He will also be the link between Pope Francis and the local Catholic community, mainly through the bishops.
"The responsibility of the bishops are to look into the spiritual and material wellbeing of the people and sometimes they have to take up certain questions with the authorities," he said.
"I celebrated mass at the Risen Christ church and I am very impressed by the deep faith of the Catholics here,” he said, referring to his experience in the church off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur.
Mentioning the former pope, the archbishop said: “Even Pope Benedict had mentioned in one of this talks that there is a true sense of God in Asia."
On a lighter note about his experiences in Malaysia so far, he added he is holding off eating durians for now.
"The bishops offered it to me. Although it looked good, I couldn't get too close." – July 11, 2013.
~ The Malaysian Insider