Pope Francis, the leader of 1.2 billion plus Catholics, expressed his love for India as he flew over the country on November 27 on his way to Myanmar and later Bangladesh. “I love India,” the Pope told George Kallivayalil, the only Indian among 75 journalists accompanying him on the special flight from Rome. The aircraft flew above New Delhi, Lucknow, Varanasi and Kolkata before arriving at Yangon, the largest city of Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority nation. Kallivayalil, associate editor at Deepika, a Malayalam daily, wrote that Pope Francis walked to him and hugged and shook hands inside the flight when he was informed that there was an Indian journalist onboard. “Pope Francis gave me special love when he was told that I am from an Indian newspaper, Deepika. Pope then said, “I love India,” he added. The Pope gave the Indian journalist an autograph too and blessed him, his family and his newspaper. The Pontiff was on a six-day tour of Myanmar and Bangladesh. He concluded his visit on December 2.
In fact, the Pope had last year expressed his desire to visit India, where Christianity arrived in the apostolic times as the legend has it that St Thomas was the first one to arrive in southern India. Sadly, the papal visit to India could not materialise mainly because of difficulties in adjusting the dates of the Pope and prime minister Narendra Modi. Interestingly, Kallivayalil has revealed that the only question fellow journalists from around the world wanted to know from the Pope was why he did not go to India. “Why is the Pope not going to India? Pope Francis himself had assured that he would be visiting India this year. What happened then?” a journalist from Portugal asked him. The question was also repeated by scribes from Argentina and the US. Most scribes then concluded that the current political scenario in India was not conducive to accord the papal visit to the country. They then turned to the Vatican Press Office, which too did not give any clear answers, hoping that the Pope would visit India soon. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which oversees all Catholic churches in the country, said it was embarrassing that the Pope came visiting two smaller countries and not India.
— Michael Gonsalves