Indian presence to mark Dhaka’s papal program

The pope was not invited to Hindu-majority India amid perceived political sensitivities
Indian presence to mark Dhaka’s papal program

An Indian Christian prays at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi on August 4, 2016, ahead of the canonisation of Mother Teresa in Rome. Many Indian Catholics are disappointed that Pope Francis will not be visiting India. (Photo by AFP) 

When Pope Francis celebrates Mass on Dec. 1 in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, there will be a substantial attendance of Catholic cardinals and bishops from neighbouring India.

The pope was not invited to Hindu-majority India amid perceived political sensitivities.

However, the largely Muslim nation of Bangladesh had no such qualms about welcoming the pope for his Nov. 30-Dec. 2 visit.

Three Indian cardinals and several bishops, particularly from India’s West Bengal state adjoining Bangladesh, will join Pope Francis in Dhaka to offer Mass before an expected 80,000 Catholics.

"I’m carrying the love and loyalty of Catholics in West Bengal to the pope," said Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta, the Indian port city on the Bay of Bengal.

Indian Cardinals Oswald Gracias of Bombay, Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi and George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angmaly will also join Bangladesh’s Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka for the Mass.

Kolkata missing Pope

Archbishop D’Souza told that he would invite Pope Francis to make a future visit to Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta, where St. Mother Teresa founded her famous Missionaries of Charity congregation to serve the poorest of the poor.

The nuns in the Kolkata headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity also regretted the fact that the papal itinerary would not include India and their city.

"We would have loved it if the pope had come to Kolkata," said senior Missionaries of Charity Sister Eta.

"But it is God’s will that he is not coming."

She said the sisters also have 12 houses taking care of the poor and abandoned in Bangladesh and that Pope Francis would visit one of the three located in Dhaka.

"Those nuns there are so lucky that the pope is visiting them," said the nun clad in a blue-bordered white sari with a hearty laugh.

The Bengali cultural bond 

At least three bishops from the India’s Bengal state are visiting Dhaka, said Father Panner Selvam, secretary of the Bengal Regional Bishops’ Council.

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He said Catholics in Bangladesh and West Bengal share the same ethnic roots, language and history of the fertile Ganges River Delta.

The region was part of Bengal Presidency, the largest subdivision in colonial India, until British rule ended in 1947. The Muslim majority area then became part of Pakistan as East Pakistan.  

Political developments and a 1971 war resulted in Bangladesh becoming an independent nation.

"But we still have relatives living across the border," Father Selvam said.

"They follow the same language in liturgy, Bengali, and continue to attend family functions.

"Although two nations, we are same people."

Father Selvam said he shared the joy of Bangladeshi Catholics having a papal visit even though India had missed out.

The original plan was for Pope Francis to visit India and Bangladesh, but this was changed to Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The tentative itinerary was altered in August, observers say, after the Indian government failed to issue an invitation fearing the presence of the pope would alienate Hindu voters. 

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