Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to hold a historic one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis for the first time on Saturday in Vatican City, he is the fifth Indian prime minister to visit a Roman Catholic leader, the oldest. Religion in the world.
Prime Minister Modi and the Pope are expected to discuss general world views and issues such as Covid-19 for 30 minutes. Modi will be in Rome and the Vatican City until October 31.
On October 27, the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Board issued a statement on Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the Vatican. Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference (KCBC) Cardinal George Alenchery said they have learned from official sources that “the meeting between His Holiness Pope Francis and Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi will take place on Saturday 30 October.”
Calling it a “historic meeting,” the cardinal said it would “add more energy and warmth to the relations between our country, the Vatican and the Catholic Church.” He also wished “all the best” to the Prime Minister for all his events in Rome and Italy.
Christians are the third largest religious community (2.3 percent of the population) in India, as per the 2011 census. Roman Catholics are an influential community in Goa as well as Kerala among other southern Indian states.
Here is a look at Indian Prime Ministers who visited the Vatican before Prime Minister Modi:
1. Jawaharlal Nehru: Nehru visited the Vatican in July 1955 when Pope Pius XII was ruling. Interestingly, Modi’s visit to the Pope comes at a time when the Goa Council election is approaching. Christians form a large support base for the BJP in the state. However, during Nehru’s visit, the Portuguese were protesting against attempts to include Goa in the Indian Union.
2. Indira Gandhi: The daughter of Nehru, who also accompanied him during his visit to the Vatican, met Pope John Paul II in 1981 as Prime Minister.
3. IK Gujral: Gujral also with Pope John Paul II in 1997.
4 – Atal Bihari Vajpayee: Vajpayee met the Pope in 2000 during his visit to Italy