The Pope, spiritual father of Roman Catholics around the globe and the head of the state of Vatican, returned from UAE after a visit that can be called historic by any standards. When the revered pontiff of the majority of Christians all over the world visited the Muslim-Arab state of United Arab Emirates, enjoyed the warm and loving hospitality of that country, visited the celebrated Sheikh Zayed Bin Al-Nahyan Masjid in Abu Dhabi, and capped it all with a historic mass of 1,80,000 Catholics with the presence of 200 bishops, the world watched it as a glorious display of religious amity and tolerance.
In the current atmosphere when the world in general, and America and Europe in particular, have been witnessing the rise of right-wing racial and communal forces, and consequently religious minorities have been victimised, UAE's gesture to invite the Pope to its soil has been hailed as an act that will strengthen the efforts to conquer hatred and malice, and make mutual relations as friendly as possible. The supreme pontiff who during his holy sermon said to the massive gathering "not that you will be blessed, but you are blessed", also exhorted them to safeguard unity and mutual respect . And in turn, the UAE which has a whole ministry dedicated to tolerance, broke all protocol in greeting the distinguished visitor and arranging other functions for him.
Even earkuerm UAE has been a country hosting lacs of foreigners including Indians who follow other religions, and allowing them freedom of worship. The country's inviting our prime minister Narendra Modi some time ago, giving him an opportunity to address tens of thousands of Indians, and allotting land to build a Hindu temple there, all speak for the broad-mindedness of the country's leadership.
On the other hand, what has been the record of India? Despite the Pope expressing a desire more than once to visit India, our government refused to invite him. And the Vatican was hoping to get an opportunity to visit India in the same trip as of UAE. But Modi government kept quiet. Earlier, when the Pople visited Myanmar and Bangladesh, his visit to India could not materialize either. When Mumbai Archbishop Cardinal Oswald Gracias visited Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he had apprised the prime minister of the Pope's eagerness to visit India. But as later revealed by the Cardinal, there was no response that time either.
Two years prior to that, the Pope had expressed his interest to touch India too in the round of visits to the Central Asian Republicans, Georgia and Azerbaijan, but that again failed to bring any positive response. The reasons for this indifferent stance have not been explained by any responsible quarter. At the same time, when the first NDA government was in power, in November 1999, the then Pope Paul II had an opportunity to visit India. And that visit was viewed as as a gesture of goodwill towards religious minorities and religious tolerance in India, and for that very reason it elated the Catholic community here who form a mere two percent of the country's population.
However, that step of inviting the Pope by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee became a subject of protest and condemnation by extremist Hindutva advocates and Vishva Hindu Parishad. And in current times, those who harbour such an attitude are in power. Therefore, they may be correcting the previous 'error'! But, this has to be called an ill-informed attitude. The reluctance to invite the head of state of Vatican on the part of Narendra Modi - who created a record by visiting 48 countries within four and a half years since assuming office – will only serve to sully the image of India in the world.
It is nothing but irrational and baseless to presume that Pope, the spiritual head of a microscopic minority of the country, will proletyse the 130 crore people here within two or three days. Despite Christian British ruling India for two centuries, the country remained a Hindu majority country. If that is the case, wouldn't spreading of a bogey of religious conversion amount to proving that the Hindu dharma does not have the power of resistance which they constantly claim? It ill becomes any community with self-respect andconviction of faith, to create an impression that their faith is lik a nose that will fall off by a sneeze. The honour and prestige of any culture and faith consists in keeping open the doors of love and friendship to any one.