PENAMPANG: For Catholics, meeting the Pope once in their lifetime is a dream come true.
Tan Sri Bernard Dompok has been to the Vatican four times, and had an audience with three pontiffs.
“Each time, the experience is different, yet somehow the same. It has a calming effect, one which we could feel deep inside us, for days,” he said.
The plantation industries and commodities minister was speaking to reporters here after arriving from the Vatican where he led a Malaysian delegation for last Tuesday’s inauguration of Pope Francis as the Catholic Church’s 266th pontiff.
“It was solemn. Wonderful. After the Inauguration Mass, the pontiff took time off to meet all the state representatives.
“It was both very touching and unravelling at the same time.
“My wife (Puan Sri Diana) was with me in front of St Peter’s tomb inside the St Peter’s Basilica.
“We requested the Pope to bless our rosaries. He obliged. And, he asked us to pray for him. It all lasted about a couple of minutes, but it felt like eternity. To us, it was a very special moment,” he noted.
Dompok, who is United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) president, disclosed the recent trip meant he had met three popes, namely Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVII and Pope Francis in the last decade.
“I was in a delegation led by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to meet Pope John Paul in 2002. That was the time we brought up the subject of diplomatic ties,” he said.
Dompok led a Malaysian delegation for Pope John Paul’s funeral in 2005. He was also part of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak‘s delegation to cement diplomatic ties by meeting Pope Benedict, three years ago.
“I am honoured to have been asked to represent the country.
“This trip is different in the sense that Malaysia has now joined the ranks of countries with diplomatic ties with the Vatican,” he added.
Malaysia was among the 132 countries which sent representatives for the historic event at the St Peter’s Square last Tuesday. The event was attended by about 200,000 people from all over the world.
The relationship enabled Malaysia to be among those seated nearest to the Pope during the inauguration, together with world representatives, including Argentina, United States of America and the Philippines, said Dompok.
“I was flanked by delegates from Iraq and Mozambique,” he added.
Last year, Pope Benedict had appointed Archbishop Joseph Marino, an American, to be Apostolic Nuncio for Malaysia based in Kuala Lumpur.
He is also nuncio for East Timor, as well as Apostolic Delegate for Brunei.
“Actually, Malaysia has had good ties with the Holy See for decades. That’s why, we have had missionaries on our shores, as early as in the 50s.
“During Pope John Paul’s funeral, we were accorded special treatment, even though we had yet to have diplomatic ties,” he said.
Dompok’s delegation included Malaysia’s ambassadors to the Vatican and Italy, Datuk Ho May Yong and Datin Paduka Halimah Abdullah, respectively, as well as his special tasks officer Albert Bingkasan. – Bernama.