Ahead of the Lok Sabha 2019 Election, Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto had written a circular to Catholic Church and Christian institutions in India’s capital to pray and keep a fast on Friday for the sake of the nation.
Archbishop Couto in his circular stated: We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation. As we look forward to 2019, when we will have a new government, let us begin a prayer campaign for our country from May 13, 2018, which marks the anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Mother at Fatima, consecrating ourselves and our nation to the Immaculate Heart.
Following the furor over the circular issued by Archbishop Anil Couto, Vatican News in an article stated: The five-year term of the federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ends in May 2019. Christian leaders have accused the government led by PM Modi of tacitly supporting Hindu groups working to establish a Hindu Nation ignoring the interests of religious and ethnic minorities
The article further claims that, according to the Christian groups, attacks on Christians rose after Modi came to power and have spiralled in recent years. The write-up attributes all these conclusions to the letter penned by the archbishop, who wrote: “We are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere, which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our constitution and the secular fabric of our nation.”
The circular of Archbishop Anil Couto though subtle cannot be buried under the carpet. It was a mischievous ploy and a deliberate attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Indian government without substantial data to prove that the democratic principles and secular fabric were under threat or that India was witnessing a turbulent atmosphere.
Therefore, now in 2023, when Archbishop Anil Couto comes out to greet Indian Prime Narendra Modi on Easter Sunday during his visit to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi, it is encouraging to note the warmth and confidence expressed by Archbishop Couto. He told the media, “This was the first time a Prime Minister has ever visited this Church so it was a happy moment. We also gave him a gift. He planted a sapling.”
Archbishop Couto also added, “Modi takes everyone along and not away from anybody.”
Five years after voicing democracy and secular fabric under threat in India, now Archbishop Anil Couto is not negative towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi and like him, many Catholic and non-catholic Church leaders are building bridges of communication and opening doors for dialogue with Modi and the Indian government.
Syro-Malabar Bishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangar told the media after PM Modi’s visit to the Sacred Heart Cathedral that PM Modi’s visit should be treated as a golden opportunity to initiate dialogue at the federal and provincial levels to tackle the menace of persecution against Christians. The beginning of this dialogue and we can have a good relationship.”
Bishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangar wanted Christian leaders to get more involved in dialogue rather than criticize the government in power.
The cliche used by some religious leaders to fan communal tension and unrest of ‘Christians in danger in Modi’s regime’ is slowly but surely fading away as the Indian government is spending time to understand the hopes, fears, concerns, and aspirations of the Christians in the country and Church leaders are working towards a better understanding of the vision of the Indian government under Modi.
During the recent Parliament session, the head of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Baselios Marthoma Mathews III, met the Prime Minister, inviting him to visit their headquarters at Kottayam in Kerala. “I met Prime Minister Modi as I was here for the Easter services in New Delhi at Hauz Khas church. He knows our church very well as our church is in Gujarat as well. He knows about the church’s institutions like education and charity that are run along with it across India,” he said, adding, “We are supporting the programs the Government of India is doing for development.”
The Orthodox Church, with a following of around 2.5 million, is the second biggest Christian church in numbers in Kerala after the Roman Catholics.
In 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the Pontiff of the Catholic Church Pope Francis at the Vatican. Modi tweeted that he had a “very warm meeting” with Pope Francis and discussed a wide range of issues, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenge posed by climate change, with the head of the Roman Catholic church and also invited the Pontiff to visit India at an early date.
The picture of PM Modi embracing Pope Francis is a sign of the deepening of the relationship of the Indian government with one of the world’s most prominent Christian leaders.
In February this year in a presser, Pope Francis stated, “I think India will be next, next year. On September 29, I will go to Marseilles, and there is a possibility that I will fly to Mongolia from Marseilles.
In January 2021, the Syro Malabar Church’s Archbishop, Cardinal George Alanchery, the Malankara Syrian Church’s Archbishop, Cardinal Baselious Mar Cleemus, and Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mumbai’s Cardinal Archbishop Oswald Gracias met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi to discuss various issues, including the contentious ‘Love Jihad’ stand that the Kerala Catholic Church has taken. The three Cardinals later told the media that the meeting was positive and that Prime Minister Modi had lent a patient ear to their issues.
In a recent interview, Cardinal George Alencherry, Head of the Syro-Malabar Church praised Modi and said: He is a good leader. He makes an effort to be one and is successful at it. He did not go for confrontation with anyone. He has been effective in raising India’s image internationally. When there’s a sense of security among the people, other faults tend to be ignored. He is very receptive and open. That’s leadership. Also, there are many things common between Hinduism and Christianity. The concept of harmony in Hinduism is very inspiring to me.
The beauty of the visit of Prime Modi to the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Easter Sunday comes with a blessing of strengthening of relationships between the Catholic Church and the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Catholic Church leaders are opening up to the idea of India under Narendra Modi and have hope that the aspirations of the Christians in India will be addressed by PM Modi.