President Tony Tan meeting Pope today

Pope Francis waving to the crowd at St Peter's Square on May 25.
Pope Francis waving to the crowd at St Peter's Square on May 25.PHOTO: EPA

First state visit by a Singapore President to Holy See since diplomatic ties started in 1981

President Tony Tan Keng Yam will meet Pope Francis today in the first state visit by a Singapore head of state to the Holy See.

Singapore and the Holy See established diplomatic relations in 1981, and the visit will showcase the longstanding ties between them, said the Foreign Affairs Ministry in a statement. The last visit by a Pope to Singapore was by Pope John Paul II in 1986.

Last year, Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, called on Dr Tan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to mark Singapore's Jubilee year.

Today, Cardinal Parolin will meet Dr Tan in the Vatican City.

Commenting on Dr Tan's visit, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said yesterday: "For the Catholic Church in Singapore, this is indeed a very significant event."

The 35-year relationship between Singapore and the Holy See has seen other milestones, the Church added in its statement, like Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino's visit here in 2006 as the envoy of Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate 25 years of diplomatic ties.

SECULAR BUT NOT SECULARISED

We have a government that is secular but not secularised, as it recognises the important role that religions can play in the moral development of our peoples.

ARCHBISHOP WILLIAM GOH, thanking the Government for championing religious harmony.

Two Singaporeans also sit on the Holy See's committees dedicated to the Catholic Church's financial reform, one of Pope Francis' major initiatives.

Former Monetary Authority of Singapore chairman J. Y. Pillay sits on the board of the financial regulator Financial Information Authority, while former Foreign Affairs minister George Yeo is a Lay Member of the Council for the Economy.

Archbishop William Goh yesterday thanked the Government for championing religious harmony, saying it is especially crucial at a time when religious extremism is spreading around the world.

He said Singapore was fortunate to have a supportive and responsible government that is "not only visionary but determined and collaborative". He added: "We have a government that is secular but not secularised, as it recognises the important role that religions can play in the moral development of our peoples."

Yesterday, Dr Tan met the rector, students and faculty of Sapienza University in Rome, Europe's largest university by enrolment. He was briefed on the nanotechnology research being done at the university, which signed an agreement with Nanyang Technological University on Monday to work on scientific research and exchanges.

Dr Tan had returned to Rome yesterday after a short trip to Venice to officially open the Singapore Pavilion at the 15th Architecture Biennale.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'President Tony Tan meeting Pope today'. Print Edition | Subscribe