The community weighs in whether the ‘from Vadnagar (Modi’s birthplace in Gujarat) to the Vatican’ visit and the invite is a gimmick or heartfelt gesture
PM Modi greets Pope Francis at the Vatican on October 30. Pic/AP, PTI
Eyebrows raised in surprise, disappeared into hairlines altogether as the Christian community read and heard about PM Narendra Modi’s ‘visit India’ invite to Pope Francis. The invite was extended as the PM was at the Vatican recently to meet the Pope, a scheduled 30-minute meet, stretching to double that time. Subsequent reports have stated that the Vatican has accepted the invite.
While there are exceptions, largely the BJP is looked on with suspicion by the Christian community because of what they call its saffron slant. The community weighs in whether the ‘from Vadnagar (Modi’s birthplace in Gujarat) to the Vatican’ visit and the invite is a gimmick or heartfelt gesture.
Advocate Alexander D’Souza stated, “This visit is a welcome initiative and the invite is path-breaking. The Pope appreciated India’s contribution in the COVID fight and gave his blessings to the PM. This is a signal that the Christian community need not fear any persecution here. There is a lot of ‘for’ and ‘against’, but I believe a beginning has been made and that too, by a non-Congress government,” finished the United Christian Front (UCF) convenor.
Bandra activist Neil Pereira had similar “welcome initiative” sentiments but rued that the invite should not mean problems of the community—one amongst which is not being paid fair compensation for giving up their lands to the government—should continue to be overlooked. Pereira added, “There is happiness that the Pope has been invited, but we gave our votes to the BJP in 2014 after listening to promises, then we gave them one more chance in 2019. Yet, we have realised that the Congress and BJP are just the same,” he signed off.
Has the BJP redeemed itself in some small measure with this invite? “It remains to be seen whether this invite comes from the heart or is simply political opportunism,” said Wadala’s Herbert Barretto. The president of the Maharashtrian East Indian Christian Federation added, “We will know it comes from the heart when saffron outfits here do not oppose, but welcome the visit. Modi, the shrewd marketing man, with immense acumen when it comes to political games, may be eyeing the Goa elections in February 2022,” finished Barretto.
Keep “an eye on the timing,” concurred Fr. Joe D’Souza, parish priest at St. John the Evangelist Church at Ballard Estate. “Some in the community are certainly skeptical of whether the visit will happen and more so, if it is deliberately timed near the Goa elections,” said D’Souza, who remembers that there was a papal visit during former BJP PM Atal Behari Vajpayee’s time too, but then the community believed, “Vajpayee did not play double games.”
Judith Monteiro from Dadar said, “If Modi had gone to Rome and skipped the Vatican, there would be many saying why did he not try to meet the Pope? Now that he has met the Pope, there are some who say, this is a gimmick, why did he go and meet him? People need to decide what they want. I see it as a new beginning. The ice has been broken and dialogue can take place between the Vatican and the PM’s office.” Monteiro was an ‘usher’ in 1986 when Pope John Paul II visited Shivaji Park. “I hope I get a chance to be a part of the Pope Francis visit as well,” she ended excitedly.