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Modi to meet pope this weekend, says Indian cardinal

The government has been lukewarm to church efforts to invite Pope Francis to India in the past seven years

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: October 28, 2021 08:07 AM GMT

Updated: October 28, 2021 09:10 AM GMT

Modi to meet pope this weekend, says Indian cardinal

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at a virtual G20 Extraordinary Summit on Afghanistan in New Delhi on Oct. 12. (Photo: Indian Press Information Bureau/AFP) 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in the Vatican during his Europe visit, Cardinal George Alencherry has confirmed.

Cardinal Alencherry, head of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church and president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, issued an official statement on Oct. 27 saying that Modi is due to meet the pope on Oct. 30.

He said he came to know about the meeting “from official sources” and termed it as a “historic meeting.”

“There is no doubt that it will add more energy and warmth to our country’s relationship with the Vatican and the Catholic Church,” said the statement.

Indian media have been speculating on the Modi-pope meeting ever since India’s External Affairs Ministry confirmed last week that the PM would be traveling to Rome and Glasgow from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2 to attend the G20 Summit and the World Leaders’ Summit of COP26.

However, neither the Indian government nor the Vatican has officially issued any statement about such a meeting.

Modi, if he nurtures any ambition of growing into a world leader of some significance, can no longer afford to gloss over an institution and its head that hold sway over 1.3 billion people

The meeting comes seven years after Modi came to power by leading his pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party to victory in May 2014. The BJP and other Hindu groups, which support the idea of turning India a nation of Hindu dominance, have been opposing papal visits to India.

Hardline Hindu groups have also opposed Christian mission activities and publicly protested against St. Pope John II's visit to India in 1999, when he arrived to launch Ecclesia in Asia, the document of the Asian bishops’ synod.

Modi's government has been lukewarm to Indian Church efforts to invite Pope Francis to India, reportedly fearing a backlash from Hindu groups who believe such relations would encourage Christian missionary work in the country.

Church leaders say the scheduled meeting is a good sign amid Indian Christians facing increased persecution, especially since Modi came to power.

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“The scheduled meeting of Modi and Pope Francis is a step in the right direction. The head of the Catholic Church still commands certain global respect in matters of religion and ethics,” said Divine Word Father Babu Joseph, a former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

“Modi, if he nurtures any ambition of growing into a world leader of some significance, can no longer afford to gloss over an institution and its head that hold sway over 1.3 billion people across the world.

“Pope Francis has broken certain glass ceilings and broached issues that are of great human significance, and his voice is heard by world leaders. That is why the president of a world power like the USA calls on Pope Francis and seeks his good counsel.

“Additionally, no global institution other than the Catholic Church has such a vast network of service-providing agencies that have played a tremendous role in transforming the lives of people.

“India, despite the contrary claims, is no exception to this service delivery network of the Catholic Church. As a seasoned politician, Modi would want to acknowledge it, though somewhat discreetly.” 

Modi's government has ignored several appeals by church leaders to invite Pope Francis to India.

Their latest effort was in February when Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai along with Cardinal Alencherry and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church, called on Modi and asked him to invite the pope to India.

3 Comments on this Story
LADISLAUS LOUIS D'SOUZA
If the much touted proposed PM-POPE Meet does happen, it will be a travesty of justice if the Holy Father fails to bring up the question of Christian bashing being witnessed ever since Modi came to power seven years ago. Unless of course, Francis chooses to turn a Nelson's eye on the real goings-on as is clearly happening in relation to the deal between the Vatican and China. Human rights abuses committed against Christians in both countries is grossly abhorrent.
LIONEL FERNANDES
I agree with the view expressed by Ladislaus to the effect that the Pope should strongly hold Modi to a firm commitment to respect minority rights in India not only in words but in deeds.
CHHOTEBHAI
Let us not jump the gun. Pope Francis has seen injustice from close quarters from his time in Argentina. Let us wait and watch. Yes, he must be firm with Modi, if at all they meet.

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