After 'warm' meeting, Modi invites Pope to visit India

After 'a very warm' meeting, Modi invites Pope to visit India

Modi is also the first Indian Prime Minister Francis has met since becoming Pope in 2013

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pope Francis. Credit: Twitter/@narendramodi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Pope Francis to visit India as the pontiff gifted him a silver plaque with the inscription “The Desert will become a Garden” during a meeting in the Vatican on Saturday.

Modi met the head of the Catholic Church even as the Christians in Karnataka and other states ruled by his Bharatiya Janata Party had not only been alleging persecution but also been opposing laws already introduced or proposed to be introduced to ban religious conversions.

The Prime Minister is currently on a visit to Rome to attend the G-20 summit. He met the Pope at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on Saturday. He earlier had an interaction with the representatives of Hindus and Sikhs living in Italy.

Also Read | PM Modi meets French President Macron on sidelines of G20 summit 

Modi gifted Pope Francis a silver candle-stand and a book on the commitment to the environment. The pontiff had reciprocated by gifting the Prime Minister a bronze plaque with the inscription “The desert will become a Garden”. He also gifted Modi volumes of papal documents, his message for World Day of Peace and the document on Human Fraternity, which he and Grand Imam of Al Azhar had signed in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019.

The Prime Minister extended an invitation to Pope Francis for an early visit to India. The Pope accepted the invitation with pleasure, calling it “the greatest gift”, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla told journalists.

Also Read | PM's decision to invite Pope Francis to India historic: Catholic Bishops' Council 

This was the first meeting between a Prime Minister of India and the Pope in more than two decades. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had last visited the Vatican and met the then Pope, John Paul II, in June 2000.

Modi and Pope Francis discussed the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences for people around the world. They also discussed the challenges posed by climate change. The Prime Minister briefed the pontiff about the ambitious initiatives taken by his government in combating climate change as well as its success in administering one billion Covid-19 vaccination doses in India. The Pope appreciated India’s assistance to countries in need during the pandemic, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Arindam Bagchi, said.

Also Read | Climate, Covid, corporate tax on the G-20 agenda in Rome

The Press Office of the ‘Holy See’ stated that the Pope and the Prime Minister had discussed the “cordial relations” between India and the Vatican City.

Pope Francis had on October 2, 2016, stated that he would visit India and Bangladesh in 2017 as part of a tour to Asia. Though the Catholic Bishop Council of India had conveyed to the Modi Government its request for inviting the pontiff for a visit to India, the proposed papal visit had not taken place so far, with New Delhi citing difficulties in scheduling it.

The Pope had visited two other South Asian nations – Myanmar and Bangladesh – from November 27 to December 2, 2017, but not India.

Also Read | G20 host: We must vaccinate 70% of world by mid-2022

Pope John Paul II was the last pontiff to visit India. He had visited as many as 14 cities across the length and breadth of India during his 10-day tour in February 1986. He had again visited India in November 1999, but his itinerary had then been limited to New Delhi only. His successor Pope Benedict XVI had given India a miss during his eight-year-long papacy.

The last papal visit to India had taken place when Vajpayee had been heading the BJP-led government in New Delhi – a fact the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as the MEA, underlined after Modi’s meeting with Pope Francis on Friday.

The meeting between the Prime Minister and the Pope took place just days after Metropolitan Archbishop of Bengaluru, Peter Machado, reiterated his concerns over a proposed survey of the churches in Karnataka by the police. Machado, the President of the Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops’ Council, also said that he would meet Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai again to convey concerns of the Christians of the State over the BJP government’s plan to introduce a new law to ban religious conversions.

Also Read | PM Modi to call upon G20 leaders to ensure mutual recognition of Covid-19 vaccines, inoculation certificates

Uttar Pradesh, which is also ruled by the BJP, also introduced a new law earlier this year to ban religious conversions.

The BJP’s mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its other offshoots have since long been accusing the Christian missionaries in India of converting the Hindus, either forcibly or by offering them money or employment.

The BJP government's move to restrict the flow of foreign funds to some non-profit organisations, including Compassion International and other Christian NGOs, operating in India also drew criticism – not only within the country but also from outside, including the United States.

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