India’s Prime Minister and Pope Francis, “a special moment for us Catholics in India” said Joseph Ivel Mendanha CSsR


Indian Catholics hope a papal visit will halt anti-Christian persecution

The Catholic minority in India hopes that a papal visit will mend relations between Christians and Hindus and promote gender equality in the local church.

A recent meeting between Pope Francis and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has raised hopes among Indian Catholics about the possibility of a future papal visit, one that might help foster religious freedom and gender equality in one of the world’s largest nations.

The Oct. 30 meeting between the pope and the Indian prime minister was met with a feeling of “gratitude” by Catholics living in India, said Joseph Ivel Mendanha, provincial superior of the Redemptorist Province of Majella in India, in an interview with Religion News Service. 

Mendanha called the meeting “a special moment for us Catholics in India because it gives us a great sense of joy and almost tears in our eyes.” He added that he hoped Modi “will be touched by the sincere warmth that Pope Francis always exudes with whoever he meets, especially heads of state and heads of government.”

The last time an Indian prime minister met with a pope at the Vatican was in June 2000, when then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee greeted Pope John Paul II. The papal audience with Modi lasted roughly 50 minutes, but little information was offered about what topics the two actually addressed.

“During a brief conversation, the cordial relations between the Holy See and India were discussed,” the Vatican press office said in a short statement released shortly after the meeting. Modi gifted Pope Francis with a silver candlestick and a book entitled “The Climate Climb” showcasing India’s commitment to combating climate change.

Pope Francis gifted in return a collection of his works, including a document that he co-signed with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in February 2019, which calls for tolerance and peace among different religions. He also gave Modi a plaque in bronze with the quote from Isaiah: “The desert will become a garden.”

Modi was in Rome to attend the G20 summit of leaders from the world’s strongest superpowers and later traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, to take part in the COP 26 conference on climate change organized by the United Nations Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.

Pope Francis was initially scheduled to attend the climate summit, but the Vatican announced he would instead send a delegation led by his right-hand man, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who heads the powerful Secretariat of State at the Vatican.

Joseph Ivel Mendanha, CSsR

In a tweet showing smiling pictures of the Vatican audience, Modi wrote that he “had a very warm meeting with Pope Francis” where they discussed “a wide range of issues,” and that he invited the Roman pontiff to visit India.

Christians represent only 2.3% of India’s 1.3 billion people, with Catholics comprising about 1.5% of the population. 

Francis would become the third pope to visit India, following in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI, who visited Mumbai in 1964 for an International Eucharistic Congress, and Pope John Paul II, who visited the country in 1986 and in 1999. Mendanha called Paul VI’s visit “a watershed moment” for Catholics in India that “encouraged people” and “brought the simple, the poor, the maimed, the crippled out on the streets.”

Mendanha believes that a visit by Pope Francis would “without a doubt” help to mend the tenuous relations between Christians and Hindus in India.

If there were ever a time for Francis to visit India, he said, it is now.

“The way Pope Francis is, his connection to the poor and troubled and the weak, his connection to mother earth and his desire to bring people together to build bridges and tear down walls, that’s exactly what we as Catholics are looking for,” he said.

Indian Catholics eagerly await a papal visit to their community with a sense of “longing,” Mendanha said.

“His visit will be a visit of healing, of peace, of showcasing what Catholicism is all about: bringing people together.”

By Claire Giangravé, November 8, 2021

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