04/10/2023, 10.55
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Modi at Delhi Cathedral on Easter Sunday

by Nirmala Carvalho

The Indian premier paid a visit to the Sacred Heart Church as a gesture of concern for Christians. And in a tweet, he hoped that this holiday would "raise the spirit of harmony in our society." Fr. Thelakat to AsiaNews: "A positive fact that recognizes India's pluralism. But now Christians also expect him to come out of his silence on growing anti-Christian intolerance and control extremist elements within his party."

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - In a rare and significant gesture for India, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Delhi on the occasion of Easter 2023. Modi - welcomed by Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto - spoke to the faithful; he also lit a candle in front of the image of the Risen Christ and planted a tree in the garden of the complex. It was the premier himself who gave wide coverage to the visit, releasing pictures and a short video.

Earlier in the morning Modi had already posted greetings to Christians on Easter Day with a Tweet on his profile. In the text he expressed the hope that "this special occasion will deepen the spirit of harmony in our society. May it inspire people to serve society and help the marginalized. On this day let us remember the pious thoughts of Christ."

Modi's visit was welcomed by the Archdiocese of Delhi. In a statement reported by India's official Ani news agency, cathedral pastor Fr. Francis Swaminathan called it "a great message."

Observers of Indian politics have linked the gesture to the slogan "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas," launched by the premier ahead of the 2024 elections: a call for cooperation among the different communities in India, a country where unfortunately confessional divisions fueled by Hindu nationalists often make headlines.

In recent days Modi had had a meeting in Delhi with Baselios Marthoma Mathews III, the leader of the Malankara Orthodox Church, a Syriac rite. The prelate also extended an invitation to him to visit his seat in Kottayam in Kerala.

"We are happy with the messages about cooperation between the communities," Baselios Mathews III had commented, "but at the same time we have problems in different regions, attacks against Christian churches. And these facts are a reality that needs to be addressed." 

In Kerala, too, some prominent BJP leaders visited churches on Easter Day. It was a gesture that the local opposition leade linked back to the election campaign, calling it opportunistic and recalling how - on the contrary - just these days a minister from the same party said that Christians who visit other people's homes "to effect conversions" should be beaten.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr. Paul Thelakat, former spokesman of the Syro-Malabar Church, commented, "I welcome Prime Minister N. Modi's visit to Delhi's Sacred Heart Cathedral on Easter Day. It is truly a gesture of celebration with the Christians of this country. This is a plural nation and I am glad that the prime minister celebrated the plurality of India. Christians in this country, however, fear the anti-Christian attitude of the BJP with its Hundutva ideology. I believe this is not a pre-election political stunt, but an honest attempt to reach out to everyone in this country. Christians now expect Prime Minister Modi to come out of his silence on the growing anti-Christian intolerance and control extremist elements within the party. The Christian attitude should be neither one of prostrate abstention nor outright condemnation, but one of political prudence. It is a positive attitude, but it must also be aimed at other communities; no section of Indian society can be considered an enemy of the country and treated as such."

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