Archbishop Zalewski talks about his role and other matters in this email interview
CatholicNews: You were Counsellor of the Nunciature in Singapore from 2011-2012. What are your thoughts on coming back to Singapore, this time to serve as Apostolic Nuncio?
Archbishop Zalewski: From 2008-2011 I was based in Bangkok, as Counsellor of the Nunciature, and back then I was already following some issues pertaining to Singapore. During that period, I came to your country several times before 2011, when I was transferred to Singapore to prepare for the arrival of the first resident Apostolic Nuncio, H. E. Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli.
My first thought when I received the news that His Holiness Pope Francis has appointed me as his Representative to Singapore was: “How nice! I am going back to a country that I am familiar with, to work again for the Church and the society, together with people who are generous and ready to help!” Then, I thought: “Am I able to accomplish all these tasks and expectations that my new office encompasses?”
Anyway, I feel blessed and privileged to move to Singapore soon!
What are you looking forward to do in your role as papal representative in Singapore, and what are your thoughts on relations between Singapore and the Holy See? What are the areas we can work on to make the current relations even warmer?
Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Republic of Singapore were established in June 1981, under the pontificate of St John Paul II. In 2006, we had an official celebration at the high diplomatic level of 25th anniversary of our friendly diplomatic and cultural ties.
In 2016, Pope Francis met with the president of the Republic of Singapore, marking 35 years of diplomatic relations between the Country and the Holy See, and the first-ever state visit by a Singaporean president to a Pope.
We are working together on various topics which relate to the importance of interreligious and intercultural dialogue for the promotion of stability, justice and peace in Singapore and in the whole of South-east Asia.
One of the urgent issues that we have to discuss together and work on relates to climate changes and respect for our natural environment. In that sense the Pope’s Document Laudato Si’ could be taken seriously and used as a guideline for our actions.
Are there plans for Pope Francis to visit Singapore?
I hope that in my term, as Apostolic Nuncio to Singapore, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St Peter, will visit our country. However, for now, there are no plans for an immediate pastoral travel of Pope Francis to Singapore.
Would you like to say a few words to the Catholics in Singapore as their new nuncio?
I am very pleased to be your Nuncio and to represent the Roman Pontiff to the Catholic Church in Singapore. I am sure that, together with Archbishop William Goh, we will work hard for the common good and the respect of the human person.
Dear friends, you are all Catholics, but also Singaporeans. As Singaporeans, you owe temporal allegiance and respect to the State; and, as Catholics, spiritual allegiance to the Holy Father.
It is important, and I am grateful to the Singaporean Government, that we have freedom to practise our religion publicly. My appointment is a clear indication of that freedom, I will use this opportunity to promote Christian and human values in our society.
As the Pope’s Representative to your Country, I convey to you the Apostolic Blessing!
You have also been appointed non-resident Pontifical Representative for Vietnam. What are your plans for Vietnam?
As you know, the Holy See and Vietnam enjoy excellent relations, which I hope will improve and intensify. My predecessor, Nuncio Girelli, did a great job in promoting strong ties with Vietnam. I am sure that the Holy See and the Catholic Church will be able to continue contributing to local society there, particularly in education and health care.
Last week, on 24 May, I was in Rome and had the honour and privilege to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. During our private conversation, he mentioned Vietnam several times. He said that he loves Vietnam and its people, he wants the Vietnamese Catholics to be good and responsible citizens, to contribute to the country’s prosperity and holistic human development.
At this point, I would like to thank the Vietnamese Government for having created favourable conditions for the Pope’s non-resident Representative to work in such a beautiful and culturally rich country.
We are living in challenging times and the media has extensively covered news about interreligious strife and individuals, who attempt to harm religious harmony, causing death and destruction by their acts against the Church. What message would you like to share with Catholics in this region on how we can strengthen interreligious relations to create the trust and confidence during times of crisis?
First of all, a serious and true religion does not harm anyone! It is in the wrong human interpretation of religious values that misleads some of the believers. The Lord does not ask us to kill, to hate or to destroy!
The Almighty and Merciful God tells us to love and respect each other, because we are all His sons and daughters, we are all brothers and sisters. Religions are called to help us understand that we are oriented towards the Most High, who created us, and towards the other, who is our neighbour.
Individuals and whole societies suffer when some act as if God does not exist, but also when others believe they are justified in using violence to impose extreme and radical attitudes, which are furthest from the living and loving God.
Without doubt, humanity needs religion to avoid terrible mistakes. As Pope Francis said, the true religion is “the compass that orients us to the good and steers us away from evil, which is always crouching at the door of a person’s heart”.
It is very important that we don’t follow any of these extreme groups. In fact, we have to condemn all expressions, even the smallest ones, of religious discrimination and hate, regardless of which religious group they belong.
At a time when the world seems to live in conflict, it is my sincere hope that religions would prepare “the way for a dawn of peace; seeds of rebirth, amid the devastation of death; paths to encounter and reconciliation reaching even those places, where official mediation efforts seem not to have borne fruit” (Pope Francis, Apostolic trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan, 2016).