The Pope is set to visit the subcontinent but visiting India would have to be given a miss since the Modi government has not extended an invitation. He is scheduled to visit Myanmar from November 27-30th and Bangladesh from November 30th to December 2nd.
It was reported that the Vatican had announced the Pope’s schedule in August. Catholic cardinalate and ecclesiastics and their associations in India were in touch with the Indian government for obtaining an invite, but they couldn’t get a commitment from the government.
It was during his flight from Baku, Azerbaijan to Rome, in 2016, that Pope Francis gave a press conference to the journalists aboard the papal plane. When Aura Vistas Miguel, a journalist from Radio Renascenca had asked the Pope about his visits to countries outside of Italy, the Pope had responded saying, “It’s sure that up until today that I’ll be going to Portugal and I’ll go only to Fatima. Up to today. Because there’s a problem. This Holy Year, the ad limina visits have been suspended. Next year, I have to do this year’s ad limina visits and next year’s. There’s little space for trips. But I’ll go to Portugal. And India and Bangladesh, almost for certain. In Africa, the place still isn’t sure”.
It is after this statement of the Pope that the consultations for his visit began in earnest. It is reported that the Archbishops and cardinals of Catholic associations like Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC), and CBCI, had formed delegations to meet then President Pranab Mukherjee and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to clear the dates of the visit. But other than meeting the Prime Minister, fruitful commitment regarding the dates of the Papal visits couldn’t be worked out.
The Vatican Radio in June 2017 had reported Cardinal Gracias saying that working with the Indian government to prepare the papal visit has been “a little bit of a difficult situation” as Modi’s calendar has been filled up with state visits from other leaders. ”We have to find a good spot where we can give the Holy Father his due importance and respect,” Card. Gracias said.
Archbishop Thomas Macwan who had recently stirred a controversy by appealing to the people of Gujarat to ‘save the country from Nationalist forces’ in the upcoming assembly elections and later got an EC notice for the same reportedly said, “Of course, I’d be joyous if the Pope came to the country, but it is a decision to be taken by the government. Perhaps, the dates were not suitable for the government. But I’m confident the government will take a decision soon.”
Many people were of the opinion that the Archbishop’s letter had pointed towards a foreign government meddling in domestic affairs.
In a rather shocking and misplaced reaction, Bishop Mascarenhas said: “In this climate of vigilantism and murderous lynchings, the Pope would have come as a Messenger of Peace, bringing a salve to the people who are powerless in the face of the forces of hate and evil.”
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Secretary-General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the permanent association of Catholic bishops in India and which oversees all Catholic churches in the country, said, “It was with a heavy heart, we received the news that the Holy See cannot visit India. This is not vis-à-vis just Catholics in the country, a Holy Visit would have been a prestige for the whole country in the eyes of the world. It is indeed embarrassing that the Pope is coming to the neighbourhood, and visiting two smaller countries and not India. As an Indian, it hurts that the Pope will not be coming here. I hope it hurts all Indians, too.”
He added,“We are continuing with our backchannel talks and are confident that with the support of the government we can welcome Pope Francis in India by the middle of 2018.”