India: PM’s Cathedral Visit Evokes Hope Among Christians
By UCA News
(UCA News) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi on Easter Sunday evening, which Christian leaders say opens an opportunity for dialogue with the government aiming to put an end to harassment Christians face in the country.
Modi’s visit to the cathedral on April 9, the first such visit since the leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became prime minister in 2014, came as Christian leaders continue to accuse Hindu groups of attacking their people in most northern states where Modi’s party runs state governments.
“We are very happy that the prime minister visited our cathedral and shared his Easter greetings with us,” said Archbishop Anil Joseph Couto of Delhi, who welcomed him at the cathedral.
Bishops of two Eastern rite Churches in the Delhi region — Syro-Malabr Bishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara and Syro-Malankara Bishop Thomas Antonios Valiyavilayil — also joined Archbishop Couto of Latin rite.
Couto gifted him a small statue of risen Lord, which Modi accepted happily.
The visit, though short and symbolic, has sent a clear message, according to Archbishop Couto. “Modi takes everyone along and not away from anybody,” he said.
During the 25-minute visit, Modi lit a candle in front of the statue of risen Lord Jesus Christ and enjoyed three Easter hymns. He also interacted with the children in the choir and “clicked photos with them as a mark of his friendly gesture,” Couto told UCA News.
He also planted a sapling on the Church campus before his departure.
Modi also took to Twitter to announce his Church visit “on the very special occasion of Easter… May this special occasion deepen the spirit of harmony in our society. May it inspire people to serve society and help empower the downtrodden. We remember the pious thoughts of Lord Christ on this day,” he wrote.
Bharanikulangara said the visit “should be treated as a golden opportunity to initiate dialogue at the federal and provincial levels to tackle the menace of persecution against Christians.”
“There is no denying the fact that in many places in our county Christians and their institutions are attacked. We need to change this attitude and involve ourselves more and more in dialogue at all levels,” Bharanikulangara asserted.
Bharanikulangara said the visit could be “the beginning of this dialogue and we can have a good relationship.” He wanted Christian leaders to get more involved in dialogue rather than criticize the government in power.
Christian leaders in India accuse the right-wing Hindu groups associated with Modi’s party of attacking their people and pastors and framing them in police cases. In most cases, Christians are accused of violating clauses and anti-conversion laws existing in several Indian states.
Christian leaders also note that Modi has never condemned such attacks on Christians ever since he became prime minister.
According to data collected by the United Christian Forum (UCF) based in New Delhi, more than 1,000 cases of anti-Christian violence were recorded in the past two years. These include physical violence on Christian congregations, pastors and mob attacks on churches and Christian institutions.
Bharanikulangara said the visit, which Modi initiated on his own, opens a path of dialogue for Christians “to ensure their safety… we need to talk to those in power to settle our problems.”
The visit comes against the background of political parties preparing for parliamentary elections next year.
Christians make up 2.3 percent of the 1.4 billion people in India, where around 80 percent are Hindus.