The Church in India welcomed the meeting between Pope Francis and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who extended a long-awaited invitation to the Pope to visit India during their October 30 meeting at the Vatican.
“We are delighted and happy with the meeting and the invitation of the Holy Father to visit India,” Archbishop Felix Machado, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), told the Register. .
“I had a very warm meeting with Pope Francis. I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues with him and I also invited him to visit India. @Pontifex ”, Prime Minister Modi tweeted after the “historic” meeting, scheduled for 20 minutes but which lasted almost an hour.
When he met the Holy Father on his trip to Rome to attend the G20 meeting, Modi became the fifth Indian prime minister to appeal for a pope in the Vatican.
“The Holy Father was impatiently awaiting this invitation to visit our country. He was disappointed when the [government]the invitation did not materialize [in 2017]Archbishop Machado said in a telephone interview from his diocese of Vasai, near Mumbai.
Pope Francis had even considered a visit to India in November 2017 when he visited the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo told this correspondent in an interview in 2018 that Myanmar was instead included in the trip at the last minute as the Indian government’s invitation was not received.
“The fact that the Pope called the invitation ‘the greatest gift’ shows the Pope’s desire to visit India,” said Archbishop Machado, who served as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue for 15 years in the Vatican.
“The Vatican will now work on the visit and consult with the government, as it is a diplomatic visit. It’s a long process, ”added Bishop Machado.
“The choice of places will be decided by the Vatican, although many regional requests would arise for the Pope to visit them. Our [CBCI] role in this regard is minimal, ”remarked the General Secretary of Bishops when asked how the CBCI was going to deal with it.
Memories of John Paul II’s travels
In fact, prominent dailies in the Christian heart of Kerala have published details of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1986, when he visited four cities in the state, hoping for a visit from Pope Francis again. .
Pope John II visited 13 Indian cities during his 10-day whirlwind trip in February 1986, while his second visit in November 1999 was limited to New Delhi only to liberate Ecclesia in Asia, his post-synodal exhortation following the special Asian synod held in Rome in the spring of 1998.
The first pope to visit India was Pope Paul VI, who traveled to Mumbai for the International Eucharistic Congress in 1964.
From regional Church bodies to Catholic organizations, local worshipers immediately welcomed the news of Prime Minister Modi, who heads the BJP’s Hindu nationalist government, extending the long-awaited official invitation to the Pope, a demand repeatedly raised by Indian Church leaders and groups. India has nearly 20 million Catholics among the country’s 32 million Christians, who represent 2.32% of India’s 1.38 billion inhabitants; 80% of the population is Hindu and over 14% is Muslim.
The three cardinals of India – Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, president of the CBCI and member of the Pope’s “council of cardinals”; Cardinal Baselios mar Cleemis, Catholicos of the Syro-Malankarian Church; and Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church – jointly called on Modi in January to reiterate that call.
Amid the Indian media making headlines on the meeting and the Pope’s invitation to visit the country, enthusiastic Catholics, from lay people to nuns and priests, took to social media to express their “joy” at the idea that Pope Francis is going to India soon.
“Miracles are possible. We will pray now [for the success of the visit]Said Jesuit Father Joseph Kalathil, based in eastern Odisha state. He also posted a photo of the Pope and Modi kissing.
However, leading Church analysts – wary due to the targeting of Christians and other religious minorities by Hindu nationalist extremists since Modi was first elected in 2014 – are cautious in their reaction to this. bodes well for the country amid frequent continued attacks on Christian targets, especially in BJP-ruled states.
“The invitation of the Prime Minister to Pope Francis to visit India is a milestone,” said Salesian Father Joe Mannath, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India (IRC), which includes 2,000 religious brothers, 102,000 nuns and 25,500 priests.
“That the obvious mutual warmth [from the Vatican meeting]will be the start of a new era of greater mutual trust and collaboration is something we cannot predict at the moment, ”Father Mannath told the Register when asked for the invitation and a possible visit. papal.
John Dayal, a prominent lay Catholic leader, told the Register that “the Pontiff shall assure the Indian Christian community – the Eastern Rites, the Latin Rite and the many independent denominations and churches – that he has their well-being at heart.” .
Outspoken Jesuit father Cedric Prakash, based in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, told the Register: “The visit, if it ever takes place, in addition to scoring some political points for the BJP during the next election, will surely have no positive effect. on the realities on the ground.
“Modi and his ilk in the Sangh Parivar [Hindu nationalists] have seized political power primarily by denigrating, demonizing and attacking minorities such as Christians and Muslims. They will surely not like to give up their core competence, as evidenced by recent statements by their officials, ”Father Prakash warned.
“May the Pope’s visit be an instrument to change the minds of those who harbor and preach hatred against religious minorities,” remarked KC Venugopal, national secretary general of the Congress Party, with reference to Hindu nationalists.
Archbishop Machado told the Register that “the Vatican has vast expertise in tackling any political agenda.”
“India is not just a country, but a civilization,” Archbishop Machado added. “For the Pope, passionate about dialogue, it will be a pilgrimage to this country. “