The hugs looked warm, though it was evident that it was a courtesy call, a formal meeting between two Heads of State. This is the first time Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pope Francis have met. The photos went viral quickly, and so did the news that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited Pope Francis to visit India soon. They also exchanged gifts, as the cameras captured every smiling moment.
It is reported that the Pope gave PM Modi a circular bronze plaque with the Biblical verse “The wilderness will become a fruitful field” (Isaiah 32:15). Prime Minister Modi gave the pope a silver candle stand and a book outlining India’s commitment to tackling climate change. PM Modi’s invite to Pope Francis on Saturday may also result in a trip that was supposed to have taken place years ago. The last Papal visit to India was of John Paul II, in 1999. In 2000, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had met Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. According to reports, the Vatican had not accommodated for Papal trip to India in 2016-2017. Pope Francis was in the neighbourhood as it were, and visited Myanmar and Bangladesh instead.
Now PM Modi himself shared the news of a possible papal visit, “Had a very warm meeting with Pope Francis. I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues with him and also invited him to visit India”.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 30, 2021
The Holy See Press Office Communiqué, was formal and brief in its recap of the Pope’s audience with the Prime Minister of India. It said, “Today, 30 October, the Holy Father Francis received in audience, in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Prime Minister of the Republic of India, Mr. Narendra Modi. Subsequently, in the Secretariat of State, the Indian Prime Minister greeted His Eminence Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and His Excellency Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States. During a brief conversation, the cordial relations between the Holy See and India were discussed.”
As reported by SabrangIndia, the news of anti-Christian violence has preceded Modi’s Vatican call. Even before the Vatican officially confirmed the meeting, information portals of the headquarters of the universal Catholic Church had carried a long report on the survey of churches in Karnataka. The Archbishop of Bangalore, Peter Machado, had denounced the survey as likely to fan further persecution at the hands of militant and violent extremists. The PM has been urged by the Church to use his power to see that these elements stop attacking communities, churches and educational institutions. The latest such letter to Mr. Modi was written by Bhopal Archbishop Leo Cornelio who said the prime minister must “take effective steps to contain rising violence against Christians.”
Will Pope-Modi meet lessen the hate Indian Christians have been subjected to?
Now that the meeting is over, the big question remains: will this meeting, in any way, mitigate the hate and violence that Indian Christians have been subject to, especially since 2014?
According to Fr Suresh Mathew, Editor, Indian Currents weekly, “(The) meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pope Francis could be deemed a courtesy call. But what the nation looks forward to is its impact on the battered religious freedom in India and how far the Modi govt would protect the constitutional guarantee in this regard. More than photo ops and polemics, what matters is the ground reality. Hope the one to one discussion between the two would have a sobering effect on the Hindutva forces in the country which are going hammer and tongs against minorities in India.”
However, he also warned that even though the meeting between PM Modi and the Pope was a courtesy call, “it could be exploited for electoral advantage by the BJP in Goa and Manipur” and that it may “also give leverage to the Pro BJP Christian leaders in the South who spread hatred between minority communities.”
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