Any possible visit would of course depend on health situation, but Modi declined to make a formal invitation when he was asked previously in 2018.
The Prime Minister of the Republic of India, Narendra Modi, has agreed to send an official invitation to Pope Francis to visit his country. He made the announcement to three important Catholic cardinals during a meeting in New Delhi on January 19, according to a report by missionary news agency Fides on January 20. If the pontiff accepts, it will be the third trip of a pope to India.
The three cardinals—Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Indian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankar Church—were received in New Delhi by Prime Minister Modi. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes, during which the question of a potential visit by the pope was discussed.
The Prime Minister agreed to invite Pope Francis to India, Cardinal Gracias said, though he noted that the date would hinge on current health and security conditions in India. At a previous meeting on March 21, 2018, the Indian prime minister did not respond to a similar request by Cardinal Gracias. If Pope Francis visits India, it will be the first trip by a pontiff to the country since the visits of John Paul II in 1986 and 1999.
The Indian cardinals highlighted the role of the Church in dealing with the pandemic; it has spent 15.2 million rupees to help 2 million people.
The cardinals also discussed with Modi several sensitive issues, such as the president’s regulation of foreign contributions, which hinders the arrival of aid in India, which Modi justified alleging a lack of “proper accounting.” They also spoke of the current situation of farmers, particularly severely affected by the crisis, and the case of a Jesuit priest arrested for “social activism,” Jesuit Fr. Stan Swamy, SJ.
Greater religious harmony
The Indian cardinals have called for greater “religious harmony” in the distribution of emergency resources among different religious communities. The Indian prime minister agreed with them on this point. The fate of the Dalit community was also discussed.
According to Cardinal Gracias, the discussion generally focused on “far-reaching issues,” particularly the involvement of the Catholic Church in the areas of education, health and social welfare. The question was how “the Church can collaborate with the government” in these areas, he said, but he recalled that the Catholic Church is “always apolitical” and works for the common good.