For the BJP, Modi-Pape finds a path to Christian votes. But Francis’ gift got the real message
Pope Francis, the head of state of the Vatican, is also the pontiff of the Catholic Church, whose worldwide faithful population is approximately 1.35 billion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the prime minister of the Indian state which has almost the same population. While the first was a priest of the Society of Jesus, the second was a pracharak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – and both preached what they believe. Thus, a meeting between them has great political and ideological significance.
Kerala Catholic Bishops Council President Cardinal George Alenchery called it a “historic meeting” which “will add more energy and warmth to the relationship between our country and the Vatican and the Catholic Church”. There was a lot of optics in the meeting, which included hugs, Bible kisses, and gift-giving.
According to Indian Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla, while accepting Prime Minister Modi’s invitation to visit India, Pope Francis said: “You (PM Modi) have given me the greatest gift. I can’t wait to visit India. Previously, Pope John Paul II visited India in 1999.
Despite a damning tweet from Hindutva ideologue Madhu Kishwar, there was an unusual elation in the RSS-BJP camp whose supporters mock the Pope as “the leader of the cassock band”, referring to the outfit clothing of the Catholic clergy. BJP President JP Nadda hailed the meeting as an opportunity worthy of the history books and a big step towards peace, harmony and interfaith dialogue. RSS General Secretary Dattatreya Hosable said the meeting boosted the country’s prestige and praised it because “we believe in the ‘Vasudhava Kutumbakam’ (universal family). We respect all religions.
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Kerala’s senior Catholic clergy belonging to the Syro-Malabar rite appear to be ecstatic. They hailed Modi’s invitation to Pope Francis as a landmark decision that will help strengthen diplomatic relations between India and Vatican City and nurture relations between various sects of Christianity and other religions. Major Archbishop Baselios Cardinal Cleemis, who once headed the Indian Conference of Catholic Bishops, saw the meeting as a new opportunity for government-community dialogue. According to him, this has historical significance since the meeting took place between the head of the largest democracy and an ancient culture and the head of the largest religious community.
Amid such a rapprochement between BJP leaders and some Church leaders in Kerala, there have been stern dissenting voices. As reporter Liz Mathew noted in an article for The Indian Express, “Sathyadeepam, a publication of the Syro Malabar Church… alleged that ‘special interests’ in the leadership of the Church were compromising with the leadership. of BJP-RSS despite increasing attacks on the community. (and) that leaders did not raise the issue of attacks on the community and its institutions in other parts of the country.
Father Suresh Mathew, editor of ‘Indian Currents’, said Indian express: “The BJP has spared no effort and even supported all attacks and hate speech against Christians. Several states have enacted anti-conversion laws that are in violation of the Constitution. Karnataka’s BJP government recently launched an unconstitutional investigation into Christian places of worship. Bishops, priests and lay groups must be aware of the dangerous situation. The time has come for Church leaders in India to get rid of diplomacy and voice their concern for religious freedom and the protection of human rights.
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The BJP sees the Pope-Modi meeting only as a political ploy to influence Christian voters ahead of the Manipur and Goa assembly elections next year – the two states with 41.2% and 25.1% Christian population respectively. . The BJP hopes to use the Pope as a tool to support its sagging fortunes in election-related states and also to strengthen its base in Kerala (18.38% of the Christian population) where some Church leaders are hand in hand. for their own sake and survival. Hence the well-established event management, photo ops and optics in the Vatican. ThePrint columnist Jyoti Malhotra puts it succinctly: “Prime Minister Modi’s embrace towards the Pope is photographic proof that one of the most powerful religious leaders in the world is not against him… When Modi returns, the photo of him with Pope Francis will stand out. Nothing else will matter.
Fortunately, however, the Pope, who is the Vicar of Christ on earth, cannot be so easily deceived. Pope Francis and his Principal Curia, like his Secretary of State who also met Modi, know the extreme Indian situation of communal venom, hatred, intolerance and torture that Muslims and Christians are regularly subjected to. They are also aware of the “flagrant violation of human rights and religious freedom in India, the violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors, including the Sangh Parivar, and the prosecution by investigative agencies. who currently repress individuals and groups in a fine way. black opera choreography and the prevailing atmosphere of xenophobia, ”in the words of John Dayal, journalist, public activist and former president of the All India Catholic Union.
Read also : Christianity has not failed in India. Conversion is not his only goal
The pope’s gift
And so, the Pope conveyed his appropriate message through the gift he made to Modi – a circular bronze cast depicting the biblical verse “The desert will become a fruitful field”, a quote from the Old Testament book of prophet Isaiah, chapter 32, verse 15. In this Bible verse, there is hope for better governance in the land. Pope Francis did not convey the message directly but through a parable, which is the language of Jesus. The parable is a story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told in the gospels. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which is universally known, Jesus uses the example of the Jew and the Samaritan, from Samaria, the region of ancient Palestine. When the Jew died on the road, it was the Samaritan, hated by the Jews, who saved him and not his own Jewish brethren, who passed by.
From the mouth of the prophet Isiah, the most prolific predictor before the birth of Jesus, is the vision of an age of peace and prosperity after the end of the prevailing tribulations. Verse 12, the subject of the gift, gives a full prophecy of hope that the destruction of the false would be followed by the realization of the true: “… And righteousness dwells in the wilderness, and righteousness settles upon the fruit. -field… The effect of justice will be peace, and the reward of justice, rest and security forever… ”
But it is in the first verses of chapter 32 of Isiah that the poignant message of the Pope is found: “Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen.” The fool will no longer be called noble nor the villain will be highly respected. For fools speak foolishness, their hearts are turned to evil: they practice ungodliness and spread error concerning the Lord; they leave empty for those who are hungry and for those who are thirsty they retain water. The scoundrels use wicked methods, they invent evil plans to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is right.
We only hope that the true papal message is understood and heard.
The author is a former army and IAS officer. Opinions are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)
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