Prime Minister Narendra Modi while in Rome to attend the G-20 meeting met with Pope Francis on Saturday. This is the first ever interaction between Modi and the head of the Catholic Church at the Vatican.
After the meeting Prime Minister Modi tweeted: "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." Earlier foreign secretary Harsh Shringla while briefing reporters ahead of the PM’s trip described it as an “important meeting.’’ The last visit to India was in 1999 when Atal Behari Vajpayee was in power. A papal visit means a lot to Christians across India.
The Prime Minister was accompanied by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and foreign minister Subramanyam Jaishankar for the meeting. The conversation obviously went well as it stretched beyond the original 20 minutes schedule and continued for about an hour. The discussions also included the pandemic and the challenge posed by Climate Change.
There had been some doubts in certain quarters about how the meeting would pan out, mainly because fringe elements within the Hindutva fold often targeted India’s Christian community over conversions. This has led to several stray incidents of attacks on Christians. These fringe groups were angry when the Catholic church in India had advised the flock ahead of the 2019 elections to vote wisely.
The Argentine-born Pope Francis is the first South American to preside over the Vatican and like most Latin Americans is known for his love of football. He took over as pontiff in 2013. He is less orthodox than many of his predecessors and is known for his compassion for the poor and the working class. In fact, he has always stood with his flock and at times South American political leaders in the past had frowned on him and regarded him almost as a rival. He is also much more outspoken on global issues and spoke out for refugees during the Syrian crisis. He also played an important part in restoring diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba. He is opposed to unbridled capitalism. He is for a more open and inclusive church and wants the LGBT community too to be allowed into the Catholic fold. The LGBT’s have been persecuted across Christian countries in Africa and Asia. He has been promoting inter faith dialogues.
In a message for Diwali which was released in India and signed by Cardinal Miguel Ayuso Guixot and Monsignor Indunil Kodithuwakku Janakaratne Kankanamalage, president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Church said.
"A growing awareness of the need to be with and to belong to one another in the present pandemic period calls for finding, more and more, ways of bringing the light of hope where there is discord and division, destruction and devastation, deprivation and dehumanization." Adding: " … we have a shared responsibility for one another and for the planet, which is our common home, can we attempt to lift us out of despair of any kind."