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Pope Francis’s India Visit: Strengthening of India-Vatican Relations

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Yesterday, Pope Francis global religious leader of the Roman Catholic faith said that he is planning to visit India in 2024 and is also expected to take a trip to Mongolia later in 2023, as per Vatican News.

The Pontiff outlined his upcoming travel schedule during his flight back to Rome from South Sudan. While addressing the press, the Pope said, “I think India will be next, next year. On 29 September I will go to Marseilles, and there is the possibility that I will fly to Mongolia from Marseilles, but it has not yet been decided. It’s possible. I don’t recall another one this year. Lisbon.”

GoaChronicle.com has learned from its desk in Rome that Pope Francis has been keen to visit India for some time now. The invitation extended by Prime Minister Modi has rekindled in him the desire to visit India and meet with people not only of the Catholic faith but other Christian denominations and other religious faith.

Last year, Pope Francis accepted an invitation from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit, in a turnaround in relations with the Vatican following the failure of negotiations for a papal trip in 2017. “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,” Modi had expressed on Twitter.

During the meeting at the Holy See, the two leaders discussed the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences for people across the world. They also discussed the challenge posed by climate change. Prime Minister Modi also briefed the Pope about the ambitious initiatives taken by India in combating climate change as well as India’s success in administering one billion Covid-19 vaccination doses. His Holiness appreciated India’s assistance to countries in need during the pandemic.

In fact, while addressing a gathering in Goa on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the State’s Liberation on December 19, 1961, Modi revealed to the people: “I was in Italy and Vatican City some time back. I got the opportunity to meet Pope Francis. I have invited him to India and I want to tell you what he said after my invitation. Pope Francis said – This is the greatest gift you have given me.”

Narendra Modi is the fifth Indian Prime Minister to have visited the Pope. Jawaharlal Nehru visited the Vatican in July 1955 when Pope Pius XII was the sovereign. Indira Gandhi visited the Vatican and met Pope John Paul II in 1981. IK Gujral meet Pope John II in 1997. Atal Bihari Vajpayee met Pope John Paul II in 2000 while on his visit to Italy.

On the Modi-Pope Francis meeting, the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), on October 30, said, “Inviting Pope Francis to India was a historic decision and this will raise the stature of the country among the nations of the world. His visit will help to strengthen the diplomatic relation between both countries. It will also help to nurture the relationship between various sects of Christianity and other religions.”

The last pope to visit India was John Paul II, who went to New Delhi in 1999 to issue a papal document on the Church in Asia.

The Vatican has always acknowledged the importance of India, both in global and Asian terms. India is home to the second-largest Catholic population in Asia.

There have been three Papal visits to India so far: The first Pope to visit India was Pope Paul VI, who visited Mumbai in 1964 to attend the International Eucharistic Congress. Pope John Paul II visited India in February 1986 during which he visited different parts of India, including Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, and met with the Indian leadership. Pope John Paul II again visited India on a State Visit from 5-7 November 1999. He met with then President K.R. Narayanan, Vice President Krishan Kant, and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. During the visit, he presided over the concluding celebrations of the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops of Asia and he signed and released the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. New Delhi was specially chosen by the Pope to hold this Special Concluding celebration.

Christianity is also India’s third-largest religion with its followers constituting over 2.3 percent of India’s population. There are over 20 million Catholics in India, representing around 1.55% of the total population, and the Catholic Church is the single largest Christian church in India. There are reportedly 10,701 parishes that form a part of the 174 dioceses and eparchies, which are organized into 29 ecclesiastical provinces.

India and Vatican have been working together to strengthen their relations. Narendra Modi’s visit to the Vatican in 2022 and the anticipated Pope’s visit to India are being seen as strong efforts by the Indian government, Catholic Bishops in India, and representatives of the Holy See to build strong bridges of communication and cementing of India-Vatican cooperation on global issues.

Both Pope Francis and Narendra Modi are global leaders of repute and high significance in the realm of geopolitics. Pope Francis is seen as the leader of the Catholic faith, and Narendra Modi is seen as the leader of India which is home to the Sanatan Dharma faith.

There is no doubt that both leaders carry the burden of walking the fine line to balance the Catholic and Hindu religious relations in both nations as well as social, political, and economical bilateral relations.

Pope Francis would want to protect the interests of the Christian faith in India and Prime Minister Modi would like to assure Pope Francis that the Christian faith is not in danger in India because India is a secular nation.

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