Why Pope Francis keeps overflying India


M. K. Bhadrakumar

Aug. 28, 2017


Pope Francis has been to Asia three times in as many years since ascending to the papacy in 2013. He has been to South Korea in 2014 and visited Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2015. The Pope is returning to Asia again in November – to visit Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Alas, the Holy Father is again overflying India en route to his Asian destinations. Strange, isn’t it? Keeping aside the Philippines, the Christian population in all the other countries put together – South Korea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar – comes to less than the size of the Christian population in India. Christianity was introduced to India in 52 AD by Thomas the Apostle who visited Muziris in Kerala. Yet, Pope Francis keeps overflying India, but never sets foot on Indian soil to bless our country and its people.

So, one day recently I wrote to an Italian friend of many years, a brilliant intellectual and humanist who is close to the Vatican, expressing my bewilderment. His reply went like a lancer straight into my heart. He wrote back: “Pope wants to go to India but Modi has not yet invited him” and the Vatican is “very careful in not trying to push things… But India IS a priority for the Pope.”

Is it electoral politics, again? Or, is it nervousness that the ‘core constituency’ might get upset? Or, is it plain guilty conscience that today’s India is the very anti-thesis of all that Pope Francis symbolises in our troubled world?

One of the most hotly contested criticism of Pope Francis has been that he is a communist. It was an article on CNBC which raked up this controversy. Mark Koba who wrote the piece highlighted that Pope Francis has repeatedly cited “the pitfalls of capitalism, decrying global income inequality and equating low-wage labour to a form of slavery”, referring to comments made by the Holy Father since becoming pope. Indeed, Pope Francis’ comments on capitalism have raised eyebrows and caused some conservative Catholics in the United States to take pause.

Of course, Pope Francis took the criticism in the right spirit when he was asked about it. Then came that famous interview with Eugenio Scalfari towards the end of last year where the following immortal exchange took place:

Eugenio Scalfari: “You told me some time ago that the precept, “Love your neighbour as thyself” had to change, given the dark times that we are going through, and become “more than thyself.” So you yearn for a society where equality dominates. This, as you know, is the programme of Marxist socialism and then of communism. Are you therefore thinking of a Marxist type of society?”

Pope Francis: “It has been said many times and my response has always been that, if anything, it is the communists who think like Christians. Christ spoke of a society where the poor, the weak and the marginalized have the right to decide. Not demagogues, not Barabbas, but the people, the poor, whether they have faith in a transcendent God or not. It is they who must help to achieve equality and freedom”. 

Clearly, the Indian elites are unable to grasp the profound relevance of Pope Francis to its present moral and spiritual crisis. Perhaps, there is uneasiness that Pope Francis may say or do things during an India visit that exposes the rising intolerance and bigotry in our country? Yes, Pope Francis can say things that we Hindus do not get to hear from our religious leaders. Let me reproduce some of Pope Francis’ sayings:

  • “Dear Brothers and Sisters, all walls fall.”
  • “I do not pass judgment on people and politicians, I simply want to understand the suffering that their approach causes the poor and excluded”.
  • “We are all sinners. But God heals us with an abundance of grace, mercy and tenderness.”
  • “To change the world, we must be good to those who cannot repay us.”
  • “Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.”
  • “Even today we raise our hands against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain death. Violence and war lead only to death.”

Of course, Pope Francis will embarrass India’s political class because he belongs to the ‘cattle class’. He was the first prelate who chose to be named after Saint Francis of Assissi who abandoned a world of luxury and preferred a life of piety dedicated to alleviating human suffering. Pope Francis too rejects the papal luxury that comes with the Petrine mission, and he maintains a simple, Jesuit lifestyle equipped with just the basics. He wears simple shoes, a simple watch, wears an iron cross and sits in simple chairs. He carries his own luggage. His statement is one of humility, and his pronouncements call for attention to the plight of the poor and disenfranchised.

So, what gives? Is Pope Francis a communist? A socialist of some form? Is that what makes our ruling elites? No, none of it. Even communists and socialists do not live like him anymore.

We need Pope Francis to come to India to heal our wounds and purge the bestiality that has entered into our soul. India’s fame for spirituality is taking hard knock. One of the enduring assets of India’s ‘soft power’ is today in meltdown. Baba Gurmeet Ram Singh has exposed India’s sham democracy – and our tribe of spiritual ‘gurus’ as hollow men. Just think of it: It took 15 years for the state to pin him down as a ‘rapist’ – and, that too finally with the strong intervention of the judiciary. Why? Can someone explain? Reportedly, India’s present ruling elites patronised him, too.

India needs all the mercy and compassion that Pope Francis is capable of showing. Our elites need counselling how to purge their venality. We should beseech Pope Francis to spend an year with us at least.


Source: Indian Punchline