DAILY CATHOLIC     FRI-SAT-SUN     August 6-8, 1999     vol. 10, no. 147

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Even though India Hindus object to quick canonization for Mother Teresa

By Anto Akkara
        CWN has learned that India will be the site of a papal visit later this year. During the visit Pope John Paul II will release the apostolic exhortation summarizing the work of the Asian Synod.

        While Catholics in India eagerly await some formal announcement of the impending papal visit, a senior government official has confirmed to CWN that "the visit is on."

        M. P. Singh, protocol director for the Indian foreign ministry, told a CWN reporter, "The visit is taking place toward the end of this year, probably in November."

        The government official said, "The official announcement of the visit will be made public only later. But arrangements are being made." He said that official invitations would be issued to Church authorities only once the preparations were complete. But that process is well underway, he added.

        Church leaders in India remained reticent about the prospects of a visit from the Pontiff. "So far, there is nothing concrete about it," said Archbishop Alan Basil de Lastic of Delhi, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), when questioned earlier this week. "I am aware of media reports and speculation, but there is nothing more right now."

        During the meeting of the Asian Synod in Rome in April and May of last year, India had been mentioned among several possible target sites for a papal visit. (Having called for special synods to bring together the bishops of the several continents, Pope John Paul has made it his practice to make a trip to that continent for the promulgation of his apostolic exhortation-- as, for example, he traveled to Mexico to issue the exhortation that concluded the American Synod.) But to date the Vatican has not announced the site for the Pope's trip to Asia.

        "India is very strong on the list," said Archbishop Lastic. "And the Holy Father is very keen to visit India." The Delhi prelate characterized India as the "country with big religions"-- a reference to the country's status as the cradle of major religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

        Archbishop Lastic also recalled that during the meetings of the Asian Synod, the bishops of India-- who composed nearly 30 percent of all the bishops participating in the Synod-- strongly urged the Pope to visit India for the release of the apostolic exhortation.

        On Saturday, July 31, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, the new ambassador of the Holy See in India, confirmed that the Holy Father would like to visit India in the near future, but said that no dates had yet been set. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the director of the Vatican press office, has issued a similar hint earlier in July; he told reporters that during his vacation in the Italian Alps, Pope John Paul was thinking about his forthcoming travel plans, mentioning among them the Pontiff's hopes to visit both Iraq and India.

        Pope John Paul II expressed his desire to visit India after the Chinese government rejected a Vatican inquiry about a papal visit to Hong Kong. After a negative response from Beijing, the Vatican turned to the government of India-- which evidently welcomed the idea.

        An official announcement of the impending papal visit would come from the government, not from the Indian bishops' conference. "The local Church has nothing to do with the announcement of the visit; it is between the government and the Vatican nunciature," said Bishop Oswald Gracias, the secretary general of the CBCI. He told CWN that the Indian bishops "will come into the picture only when the visit is official."

        "So far, we have not received any communication to this effect," the Bombay bishop report. "All the same, we would like to be told about it at the earliest. Indian church has a crucial role in working out the details of the visit."

        Bishop Gracias said that Pope John Paul's second visit to India is "likely to be a short and symbolic visit," unlike the 10-day pastoral visit in 1986, during which the Holy Father crisscrossed the nation.

        While the Indian Church is hopeful that a visit by the Pontiff could help to broaden a dialogue with other religions-- especially Hinduism-- in the wake of the anti-Christian violence last year, the possibility of public protests by Hindu fundamentalist groups has been raised in the media.

        "Rediff on the net," India's premier internet daily, has reported that the government's decision to approve the Pontiff's visit is "under fire" from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Council of Hindus. The VHP, the report said, has written to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, saying that "the papal visit should not be permitted without imposing certain conditions on the Pontiff." One of the proposed conditions would reportedly be that "the Pope should give an undertaking to the government that during his visit he will condemn conversion activities of Christian missionaries across the country."

        VHP president Vishnu Hari Dalmia told CWN that the internet report was "baseless," denying that any such letter had been sent to the prime minister. "The VHP always welcomes dignitaries to India," he said. "We are not opposed to any person." However, he cautioned that if he did visit India, the Pope "should not encourage conversion or speak in favor of it."

        Dalmia then made a stronger statement, arguing that the conversion of Hindus to Christianity "leads to tension." He added: "The unhappy incidents last year were the result of this." The "unhappy incidents" were a series of brutal episodes of anti-Christian violence which made headlines during 1998 and the early weeks of 1999. VHP officials, along with other Hindu militants, have insisted that the violence was sparked by Hindu resentment of the missionary efforts.'

        "If the Pope would speak out against encouraging conversion, we are one with everyone else in welcoming him to India," insisted Dalmia. But he concluded on a less friendly note, saying: "If he is going to speak in favor of conversion, we will definitely protest."

        For his part, Bishop Gracias said that he felt no apprehensions about the prospects for the papal visit. "The Pope will say what is proper and right," he predicted. "He will not heed what the others say." In a related story out of New Delhi, CWN reports that a leader of an extremist Hindu group said on Thursday that the Catholic Church's accelerated process for the canonization of Mother Teresa is an attempt to prompt increased Christian evangelization in India. Giriraj Kishore, of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), said the Vatican's only intention in waiving the customary five-year waiting period was the encourage missionary activity in the nun's adopted country, according to a report by the Press Trust of India. The VHP has led a campaign against Christians and Muslims in the mainly Hindu country, where outbursts of violence have claimed a number of Christian lives in recent years. The official inquiry into the life of Mother Teresa, who died two years ago at age 87, began last week in Calcutta with the gathering of testimony on her life of heroic virtue.

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

August 6-8, 1999       volume 10, no. 147


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