By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: The head of the Catholic Church in India on March 20 urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to invite Pope Francis to visit the country.
“The prime minister reacted positively to this desire of the whole Catholic community,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), told media persons after his meeting with Modi.
The cardinal, one of the eight top advisors of Pope Francis, was elected the CBCI president, during the biennial plenary of the conference in early February at Bengaluru. This was his first meeting with the prime minister in his new capacity.
Cardinal Gracias described the meeting was “open, cordial and frank” and it helped the two leaders to know each other better.
The cardinal had a one-to-one session with the prime minister, said Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan, CBCI deputy secretary general, who accompanied the cardinal. “This was the first time a Church leader has such meeting with the prime minister. Normally, we meet the prime minister or the president in groups,” he added.
The cardinal, who is also the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, told the prime minister that Pope Francis is “acclaimed worldwide and appreciated by people of all beliefs.”
The Pope’s visit will bring long term benefits to the country, the cardinal said. “The Pope is much loved in India. He will pray with the people and give message of hope and love,” he added.
The prime minister promised to find a suitable time slot for the pope’s visit as scores of world leaders plan to visit India this year.
Pope Francis had expressed his desire to visit India several times last year. He repeated it in March when a minister from Kerala called on the Pope.
Cardinal Gracias also brought to the prime minister’s attention the growing anxiety among Christians over “sporadic attacks on minority institutions and personnel in different parts of the country.”
The cardinal told the premier that a strong message from him that such acts of violence will harm the country will help not only allay the fears of the affected community but discourage “misguided people from creating mischiefs.”
“We are small community but our contribution to nation building is between 15 to 20 percent,” the cardinal repeated what he told the preminer.
The cardinal quoted Modi as saying that he was the prime minister of all Indian and that he wants to be inclusive. “The prime minister wants to reach out to all people and his priority is the welfare of the people and eradication of poverty,” the Church leader said.
The prime minister also asked the cardinal to meet him whenever he wants and that his doors are always open for him.
Asked about the ongoing controversy over sale of Church land in a Syro-Malabar archdiocese in Kerala, Cardinal Gracias said the CBCI cannot interfere in the matter as it concerns with a Church with self-governing power. “However, I have met Cardinal George Alencherry and offered any help he required,” said the cardinal who also heads the national conference of Latin rite bishops in the country.
The Catholic Church in India comprises three self-government rites – Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro Malankara that have separate bishops’ conference and administrative bodies.
The CBCI only deals with national and matters outside the ritual Churches.
The land sale case is currently in the High Court of Kerala. A group of priests in Ernakulam-Angamaly blame Cardinal Alencherry of selling properties that huge financial loss to their archdiocese.
Cardinal Gracias said Rome has taken up the matter. “We would like the Syro-Malabar Church and Rome to resolve the matter.”
The cardinal said he would not welcome a government law to administer Church property and institutions. “Canon law has sufficient provisions for the transparent administration of Church property. A new law would only lead to interference and manipulation by vested interests,” he clarified.
Cardinal Gracias, however, said as an Indian citizen he is subject to the laws of the country. Canon law, he added, deals mainly with faith and morals.