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08/26/2011 Indian Bishops invite Pope Benedict XVI to visit country – Vatican Insider – 4th January, 2012

The Catholic Church in India wants Pope Benedict XVI to visit the largest democracy in the world
Gerard O’ COnnell
Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, president of the Latin Bishops Conference, extended an official invitation to him when they met in the Vatican last May. Pope Benedict received them in audience as a group, on May 16, the first day of their five-yearly “Ad Limina” visit.

Cardinal Toppo greeted him not only in the name of his forty brother bishops from the North-Eastern States of India, but also on behalf of the entire Latin Bishops Conference – the fourth largest bishops conference in the world after Brazil, Italy and the USA.

He raised his eyes from the text as he finished reading his greeting, looked at Benedict XVI and said: “I wish to conclude, Holy Father, by
inviting you to visit our country.”

At these words the forty bishops present applauded enthusiastically, signaling their total endorsement of the invitation. Pope Benedict just smiled.

News of the invitation did not break immediately in the media because the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, never published the cardinal’s text.

At the end of the visit, however, I spoke to Cardinal Toppo and asked about the invitation and whether the pope had given any indication he would accept..

He said the Holy Father had not given any response at the group audience, but he revealed that when he met the German pope three days later, in private audience, they discussed the invitation in some depth and the pontiff’s reaction then “was very positive. He was responsive to the invitation” and said he would like to go to India ‘if my health permits’.” “It was not just a polite way of saying no. I thought he meant it. He was very much engaged in our dialogue”, the cardinal added.

India is one of the two economic and political giants in Asia, the new emerging world powers. Its population, estimated at 1.2 billion people, is second only to that of China, but while China’s population is aging, India’s is young – 75% of the people are estimated to be under 30, and is expected to surpass that of China by 2025. Unlike China, it grants real religious freedom, and has already welcomed two popes: Paul VI and John Paul II (twice).

The Indian government would open its arms to Pope Benedict too, the cardinal believes, if there was a suitable occasion. “Indians look for an occasion to invite, the government too. That’s the mentality, for any celebration or any important event. They look for some occasion to invite a person like the pope. The canonization of Mother Teresa would be perfect; it would be fantastic.”, he said.

He is convinced that “if a miracle is recognized through her intercession thereby opening the path to canonization, then there will be no difficulty, no objection, no obstacle, the whole country will welcome the pope”.

The 71-year old cardinal has great devotion to Mother Teresa whom he knew well. Indeed, very many of her novices and sisters – including her direct successor, Mother Nirmala, have come from the archdiocese of Ranchi, the homeland of the Tribals, where Toppo is archbishop.

The tribal cardinal became quite enthusiastic at the prospect of Pope Benedict coming to India to canonize Mother Teresa:

“The Catholics, and indeed I believe the Indian people as a whole would be delighted at such an event. Remember the Indian government gave her a state funeral and the people – Christians, Hindus and the followers of the other religions too – turned out in vast numbers for that occasion. Her canonization in India would be a tremendous moment for catechization and testimony as everybody would like to know what it means. It would a great moment. Of course it would be a tremendous responsibility for the Indian Church to organize it properly”, he said.

While the Bishops’ invitation to the Pope was not actually linked to the canonization of Mother Teresa, Cardinal Toppo believes it would be the ideal occasion for the papal visit.

There is one problem however, he confided: the miracle that would open the path to her canonization has not yet been identified. He revealed that he had spoken to the Pope about Mother Teresa, and the question of a miracle. Pope Benedict too is keen to see her canonized.

A week after the papal audience, Cardinal Toppo celebrated mass for the Sisters of Mother Teresa, the Missionaries of Charity and he told them: “The Holy Father has asked us to pray for a miracle! You are contemplative sisters so you must pray so we can have this miracle, so we can canonize her.” Some days late he visited the Novitiate of Mother Teresa’s community and there too he said, “I asked them to pray for a miracle”.

He is convinced that that if such a miracle were to be identified, then “it would be given priority treatment” at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

There have been many rumors of miracles attributed to Mother Teresa’s intercession, he admitted, but “they are keeping quite.” He did not have any evidence that a specific one is under examination now by the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. He confided, however, that he is aware – indeed he has concrete evidence – that sometimes people do not want to come forward to confirm that a miracle has happened. “In today’s world, many doctors and witnesses are afraid, are hesitant to give testimony”, he told me. Cardinal Saravia Martins, the former head of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, had confirmed this to him, he revealed.

Cardinal Toppo is hoping and praying that Pope Benedict will come to India, perhaps even in 2012. “He has been to all other continents, but he has not visited Asia yet”, he noted. While some in Rome consider that Benedict XVI’s visit to Turkey and the Holy Land could be considered as visiting Asia, the Indian cardinal, like other Asian Church leaders, do not share that reading.

Two-thirds of humanity live in Asia, and the two new economic and political giants on the world stage are India and China, the cardinal explained. He believes the Church can grow in Asia in a way that it is not doing in Europe or in the West generally today. The possibilities for evangelization are ‘immense’, he added. He told as much to the pope in the private audience, but especially when he greeted him in the name of the Latin Indian bishops, and in particular of the Catholic Church in India’s North-Eastern States.

“We are happy to bring you the good news that the Church in our part of the world is growing, is enthusiastic and is faithful to its Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, and to the Successor of Peter”, he said then.

He informed the Holy Father that participation in Sunday Mass and in the Sacraments “is very high” in this part of the world, and great efforts are being made by priests and catechists alike to “bring Christ to the most remote areas.” All this work “is bearing good fruit”, he said.

He told him that “the Church has been enjoying relative peace and harmony” in most parts of India’s North-East, and bishops and priests alike are working all out to promote reconciliation and harmony in areas affected by violence. Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, a leading example of this work for peace, was one of the India bishops present in the room.

Cardinal Toppo went onto recall the tremendous violence against Christians that shook the Church in the Khandmal district of Orissa state in recent years, and which the pope had spoken out about publicly. There “lives were lost, property was destroyed, churches were burnt and many people had to flee their homes”, he said, but today though “the scars have remained”, the Christian community “following in the footsteps of Jesus, has taken an attitude of prayer, penance and forgiveness”.

With pride and joy, he told the pope: “The Christians of Kandhamal, fearlessly and with great courage, held on to their faith, even in the face of violence, suffering and death. We are sure that the blood of these martyrs will make the ground fertile for a better and more abundant harvest for the Lord.”

This is the Church that eagerly desires that Pope Benedict should come and visit India, the cardinal told me.

These episodic incidences of violence do not reflect the true heart of the Indian people, he said. “India is a great country, it has respect for religious freedom, it has enormous respect for religious people, and it will give a great welcome to Pope Benedict if he comes to visit us”, he said.

“We know he is no longer a young man, but we pray and hope that God will give him the strength to come, at least to make a symbolic visit. We wait in hope!” he concluded.

This article was first published by the monthly magazine, Inside the Vatican, in its August-September 2011 edition, and is here published with permission of the editor, Dr Robert Moynihan


January 5, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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