ASIA/INDIA - Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Pope Francis and invites him to visit India

Monday, 17 June 2024 human rights   religious minorities   pope francis  

New Delhi (Agenzia Fides) - "I met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the G7 Summit. I admire his commitment to serving people and improving our planet. I also invited him to visit India," said India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, just elected for his third consecutive term, through his official communication channels. Modi had already met Pope Francis in the Vatican in 2021 and now this renewed meeting, immortalized by the media, has found a strong echo also in the Indian media and public opinion.
Indian newspapers and television channels reported on Pope Francis' speech at the G7 Summit, highlighting how the Pope called on the leaders of democracies and developed countries to put human dignity first in the development and use of artificial intelligence - an issue that also challenges India.
Reactions to the renewed face-to-face meeting between the Pope and Modi were mixed: representatives of India's Catholic community expressed optimism and hoped that after the meeting, the chances of a papal visit to India would increase, and hoped that the meeting would have a positive impact on relations between India and the Holy See.
However, as some newspapers reported, some Hindu politicians from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi's party, were not happy that Modi shook hands with the head of the Catholic Church and even hugged the Pope. Eleven Indian states, most of which are governed by the BJP, have so-called "anti-conversion laws,"provisions that subject a person's ability to undergo religious conversion to judicial scrutiny and impair freedom of conscience. These laws are primarily intended to counter, mainly, the activities of Christians, considered "proselytism".
Other opposition politicians recalled that Narendra Modi has recently exploited the religious factor by using religious rhetoric and presenting himself to voters as a "messenger of God", and therefore questioned Modi's sincerity in embracing the Pope.
Indian Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash stresses in this regard: "We must understand and prove with facts if this is not the embrace of a hypocrite. Modi and his party have made the Muslim-Christian minorities in India suffer during these years of government. It must be proven with concrete political actions that the government respects the Constitution and the principles of citizenship for citizens of all religious beliefs".
Furthermore, continues the Jesuit, "the verbal invitation to the Pope, which is certainly very welcome - his presence would be a source of pride for all of us - must be transformed into a real and official invitation: we expect our government to present it to the Holy See as soon as possible, while it was said (and then not formalized) that this should happen as early as 2021. If the Pope comes to India, he will surely be able to highlight the plight of the poor, the weakest and suffering, the fishermen and farmers, the indigenous peoples: his presence among us would be a blessing. We therefore urge Prime Minister Modi to take concrete and real steps now to invite Pope Francis". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 17/6/2024)