ROME • As an oasis of racial and religious harmony, Singapore has piqued the interest of Pope Francis, who discussed inter-faith harmony with President Tony Tan Keng Yam.
Dr Tan, assessing his state visit to the Holy See, said yesterday that Singaporeans may take the peace between different communities for granted, but this state of affairs is considered exceptional by others.
Singapore has a unique way of maintaining harmony through inter-faith dialogue and sees preventing religious extremism not only as a security issue, but also as a holistic one which involves ideological, social and family issues, he said.
He added that it was something Pope Francis was keen to learn more about during their meeting in the Vatican City last Saturday.
The two men spoke about the vital role of inter-faith dialogue in building a society where people can occupy their own space while sharing common spaces.
They also discussed the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels and the importance of managing religious extremism in the face of terrorism.
"I was able to share with the Pope our experiences in this area, to explain that, for Singapore, racial and religious harmony is fundamental not only to our progress but to our very existence and, from the start, we have placed a great deal of emphasis on building bridges across communities," said Dr Tan to Singapore media yesterday.
He highlighted the role of the Religious Rehabilitation Group spearheaded by Muslim clerics. The group counsels those who have been affected by radical teachings.
He also pointed to the major role of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore in the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony.
Still, Singapore is not insulated from the influences of religious extremism and disharmony, particularly because of the make-up of its society, said Dr Tan.
"Racial intolerance, religious intolerance, extremism, is a feature in all countries," he added, pointing to Europe's experience.
It is a problem that will need to be worked on for many years, he said.
Dr Tan said he hopes the Pope will visit Singapore to see this in practice once a suitable date is found.
The two also affirmed the friendly ties between Singapore and the Holy See, and agreed that there is potential for more collaboration, such as in the area of cultural exchange.
Dr Tan also discussed regional and international developments with the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.