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Tue, Jan 25, 2011
The New Paper
Too stressed to relish secret historic moment

By Gan Ling Kai

BETWEEN the two men, they had millions of followers.

And this Singaporean woman was tasked with helping to organise a secret meeting for the pair.

But she's no secret agent. Sister Theresa Seow, 54, is a Singaporean nun, who was working in Vatican City.

She was present when Pope Benedict XVI met privately with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, in October 2006.

The visit was intentionally kept low-key and was not even listed on the pontiff's official calendar.

That was the first meeting between Pope Benedict XVI, 83, and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, 75, after the former assumed his position as the Holy Father.

Sister Seow said: "I knew it was a great privilege to be in that room - but the realisation only came when it was all over. I was too stressed."

She said two small buses and two cars were used to ferry the Dalai Lama's entourage and the Vatican security escort.

Regrets

"There were so many security issues to think about for the Dalai Lama's visit. We also had to avoid the press. I kind of regret not relishing the moment," Sister Seow said.

The Vatican has typically maintained a low profile on past visits by the Dalai Lama to avoid straining relations with China.

Sister Seow said the international media became aware of the Dalai Lama's visit only after he arrived in Vatican City, in Rome, Italy.

During that 10-minute meeting, the Pope and Dalai Lama were joined by about eight other persons, including Sister Seow, other Vatican officials and the Dalai Lama's entourage.

Sister Seow said they met in a room, about the size of a basketball court, within the Apostolic Palace, the Pope's official residence in Vatican City.

She said: "We were seated just a few metres away from the Pope and the Dalai Lama, but we could not hear them because they were speaking very softly.

"The ceiling was high. Everyone else was quiet. The atmosphere was solemn."

Sister Seow added: "Seeing how the two venerable leaders reached out to each other brought a warm feeling. They showed so much humility as they held the hands of each other. I was humbled by the experience."

She was part of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID), which planned that meeting.

Based in Rome, she worked within the Vatican City in that council's Asia desk from 2004 to 2008.

Sister Seow met Pope Benedict XVI twice and his predecessor, John Paul II, four times.

She was appointed to serve the Vatican office for her commitment towards building relations among different faith groups.

Since 1995, Sister Seow has been a member of the Inter-Religious Organisation, a national group here which promotes interfaith dialogue between 10 religions. She is now its honorary secretary.

Sister Seow, who is also the Vicar Provincial of Canossian Missions here, speaks fluent English, Mandarin and Italian.

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