Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the launch of a Covid-19 vaccination drive via video conferencing in New Delhi on Jan. 16. (Photo: Indian Press Information Bureau/AFP)
Three Indian cardinals have met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to apprise him of several Christian concerns and to urge him to invite Pope Francis to India.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of the Latin-rite Church, Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church, met Modi in his office in New Delhi on Jan. 19.
They requested the PM to invite Pope Francis to India, three years after India failed to invite the pontiff against Catholic leaders' expectations.
A papal visit "is long overdue. We expect a decision from the PM soon," Cardinal Alencherry told the media after meeting Modi.
Pope Francis had expressed interest in visiting India and church leaders expected him to visit in 2017, four years after his election to the papacy.
However, the pontiff canceled plans for an India visit and chose to visit Myanmar and Bangladesh instead after Modi's government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), failed to invite him, the media reported at the time.
The cardinals who met Modi also sought an equitable distribution of social welfare funds meant for religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians.
Muslims take more than 80 percent of such funds as they form the largest minority, forming 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion people.
Christians are only 2.3 percent of the population. Still, in states and districts where they are numerically higher, such as Kerala or Jharkhand, the government should allocate funds in proportion to their numbers, church leaders say.
The cardinals also discussed the release of Father Stan Swamy, the 83-year-old Jesuit human rights activist detained on Oct. 8 accused of links to Maoist groups. He remains in jail after being denied bail several times.
Before his arrest, the aged priest explained that he was arrested for standing up for the poor's rights like many other activists who have "expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India."
Cardinal Alencherry said politics was not part of the cardinals' talks with the prime minister, who appreciated Christians' contribution to education, social work and health care.