VATICAN CITY - President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Pope Francis spoke at length about the importance of inter-faith dialogue in promoting harmony between different communities when they met here on Saturday.
Dr Tan, who is on a state visit to the Holy See, also updated the Pope about Singapore’s experiences. He later invited Pope Francis to visit Singapore, to which the Pope said he would be pleased to accept.
Swiss guards waited in formation at the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace to welcome Dr Tan. He was received by the Prefect of the Papal Household and met Pope Francis in his library.
Both men reaffirmed the warm and longstanding ties between Singapore and the Holy See, said the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Dr Tan spoke of the contributions the Catholic Church has made to Singapore’s development, including in education, healthcare and social welfare.
The Holy See in its press statement said the two men also discussed various international developments and issues linked to the regional political situation.
In particular they spoke about “the importance of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue for the promotion of human rights, stability, justice and peace in South-east Asia”, the Vatican statement said.
The Singapore delegation, including Minister of Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport Josephine Teo, and MPs Saktiandi Supaat and Cheng Li Hui also met Pope Francis.
During the meeting, Dr Tan and Pope Francis also exchanged gifts. Dr Tan gave the Pope an artwork of Gardens by the Bay and a book on flowers, and received from the Pope a medallion depicting an olive tree bringing parts of a rock together. Pope Francis also gave Dr Tan three books he wrote on the joy of the Gospel, the environment, and on love and the family.
“I like to give this (medallion) to leaders because they should be like olive trees, bringing people together,” said Pope Francis to Dr Tan and his wife Mary.
Dr Tan also met the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher. They exchanged views on regional and international developments.
Singapore and the Holy See established diplomatic relations in 1981.
Dr Tan’s visit to the Holy See is the first by a Singapore head of state.
The last visit by a Pope to Singapore was by Pope John Paul II in 1986.
In the afternoon, Dr Tan was given a tour of the Vatican City, visiting St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum.