PM Modi invited His Holiness Pope Francis to visit India at an early date, which was enthusiastically accepted.

 

Vatican City: Bonhomie, conviviality and camaraderie radiated when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the world’s largest democracy, met Pope Francis, the much-revered head of over 1.2 billion Catholics in the world on a crisp winter morning.

It was literally a meeting of minds between the two leaders at the Papal Palace as they discussed a wide array of global issues, including combating the corona pandemic, global economic and health recovery, combating climate change and reducing poverty. This meeting, away from the glare of G20 politicking in Rome, was scheduled to last only 20 minutes, but stretched to over one hour, underlining a developing chemistry between the two leaders. Conjuring up the flavour of the meeting, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said that the meeting was marked by a great deal of “warmth and candour”.

The meeting on Saturday, 30 October, at the Papal Palace in the Vatican, the world’s smallest state, was historic as PM Modi became only the second Prime Minister of India to meet the Holy See in person. In June 2000, then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited the Vatican and met the then Pope, His Holiness John Paul II.

“Prime Minister 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,” said a statement by India’s Ministry of Extenal Affairs. “His Holiness appreciated India’s assistance to countries in need during the pandemic,” said the press statement.

The Modi-Pope meeting has an added resonance as India is home to the second largest Catholic population in Asia. The much-publicised meeting between PM Modi and the Pope at a time when 20 world leaders are in Rome is set to send a powerful message across about India’s unflinching commitment to religious  harmony and multi-cultural ethos. This messaging has an additional resonance at a time when sections of international media and critics of PM Modi don’t miss a chance to target India and its popular Prime Minister for alleged targeting of minorities.

Significantly, the Pope did not raise issues relating to the state of religious freedom in India, a reassuring signal that the Holy See doesn’t have any apprehensions on this score.

PM Modi invited His Holiness Pope Francis to visit India at an early date, which was enthusiastically accepted. “You have given me the greatest gift. I am looking forward to visit India,” the Pope conveyed to his Indian guest. Prime Minister Modi gifted the Pope a silver candlestick and a book on India’s commitment to the environment. The Pope reciprocated with a bronze plaque with the inscription “The desert will become a garden”, underlining his optimism about the future of the world and global cooperation.

India and The Holy See have friendly relations dating back to the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1948. India is home to the second largest Catholic population in Asia.

 

Manish Chand is Founder-CEO of India Writes Network and Centre for Global India Insights, a think tank focused on global affairs.