Malaysia: 179th State With Diplomatic Ties to Holy See

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 27, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican today announced that Malaysia is the 179th nation to establish diplomatic ties with the Holy See.

The announcement follows a visit last week of Najib Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia, to Benedict XVI.

The Vatican statement confirmed that the diplomatic relations will be at the level of apostolic nunciature on the part of the Holy See and of embassy on the part of Malaysia.

The Church has been active in Malaysia since 1511, when the first Portuguese missionaries reached Malacca. St. Francis Xavier also arrived in that city in 1545. Today the Church has nine ecclesiastical circumscriptions centered on the Archdioceses of Kuala Lumpur (on the peninsula) and of Kuching and of Kota Kinabalu (on the island of Borneo). 

There are 11 bishops, 274 diocesan priests, 119 religious priests, 123 male religious, 759 female religious and 270 major seminarians. Catholics number 850,720 -- around 3% of the population.

The religion of state is Islam, professed by 60.4% of the inhabitants. The next largest religious group is the Buddhists (19.2%), followed by Christians (9.1%), Hindus (6.3%), Chinese religions (2.6%) and Animists (2.4%).

The Church in Malaysia is active in evangelization and in the pastoral care of families and young people, through education, charity and social work. The Church runs numerous primary and secondary schools, as well as institutions for the poor and for migrant workers. Initiatives exist to promote social harmony and reconciliation among the various religious communities, through dialogue, equality of rights and duties, and mutual respect.

An apostolic delegation to Malaysia was created Feb. 2, 1998.