Pope Francis visits Myanmar, Bangladesh: Indian Catholic clergy dismayed at pontiff skipping India

On Monday, Pope Francis started his six-day visit of Myanmar and Bangladesh against the backdrop of the unfolding Rohingya refugee crisis. But in India, the top hierarchy of the Indian Catholic clergy has expressed disappointment that the Pope's itinerary does not include India.

Despite repeated requests from the Catholic Christian community, the government did not express an interest in welcoming the Pope to India, even after the Vatican played a significant role in rescuing Father Tom Uzhunnalil from insurgents in Yemen, an official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) told The Hindu.

"We have been in contact with the government and have conveyed our request at the highest level to invite Pope Francis to India, but we have not received any positive response so far," the official said.

 Pope Francis visits Myanmar, Bangladesh: Indian Catholic clergy dismayed at pontiff skipping India

File image of Pope Francis. AP

On 23 November, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, "India’s link with Christianity is nearly 2,000 years old. Indian Christians have immensely contributed to India's growth and prosperity. Relations between India and the Holy See have always been cordial and strengthened over the years," according to the report. However, the ministry did not respond to the CBCI statement.

Secretary-General of CBCI Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas said that it "hurt" that Francis' trip will not include India, The Indian Express reported.

"It was with a heavy heart we received 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, but not India. As an Indian, it hurts that the Pope will not be coming here. I hope it hurts all Indians, too," he said.

Mascarenhas added that given the current climate of "vigilantism and murderous lynchings", Francis' visit 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", the report added.

On Monday, before setting off on his 21st and possibly most delicate overseas trip yet, to Bangladesh and Myanmar, Francis said, "I ask you to be with me in prayer so that, for these peoples, my presence is a sign of affinity and hope."

Francis' previous visits to the region was in 2015 when the pontiff toured the civil war-affected northern states of Sri Lanka, and urged people to follow the example of 17th Century missionary Joseph Vaz.

The last Pope to visit India was Pope John Paul II, who visited the national capital in 1999. His stopover in India was part of a 10-day tour of 14 cities in 1986, according to Deccan Herald.

Updated Date: Nov 27, 2017 15:06:17 IST