Nayanar and P J Joseph with Pope John Paul II
New Delhi: The Ministry of External Affairs on Saturday said that Pope Francis has accepted the invitation of PM Narendra Modi to visit India. Modi, who met the Pope earlier today, had a private audience with him for a brief time and discussed various matters. Modi requested the Pope to visit India.
If Pope Francis comes to India, he will be the third Pope to do so in the history of Independent India.
The country is home to 2.4 crore Christians which amounts to roughly 2.3 percent of the total population, as per the 2001 census data.
The first papal visit to India was by Pope Paul VI in 1964. He visited Mumbai to attend the International Eucharistic Congress. After 22 years, Pope John Paul II in 1986 visited several Indian states including Kerala. He came for the second time in November 1999. But that was confined to Delhi.
Indian leaders in Holy See
Several Indian Prime Ministers have called on the Pope such as Jawaharlal Nehru (1955), Indira Gandhi (1981) and I K Gujral (1997) Atal Bihari Vajpayee (2000). The former Kerala CM E K Nayanar called on the Pope in 1997.
The present CM of Kerala, Pinarayi Vijayan, who was then the Minister for Electricity and Cooperation accompanied Nayanar to the Vatican. Nayanar gave Pope John Paul II a copy of Bhagavad-Gita and the pope gifted Nayanar a rosary in return. The then Education Minister P J Joseph also accompanied them. Another chief minister who had a meeting with the Pope in the Vatican is Mamata Banerjee. In 2016 she went to Rome along with Sushama Swaraj, the then External Affairs Minister, on the occasion of the canonisation of Mother Teresa by Pope Francis.
Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the then Vice President, represented the country at the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005.