The church and the state are supposed to be natural opposites. However, the BJP’s opposition to Catholic evangelism has not stopped its government in Goa from joining hands with Catholics to lobby with the Vatican to get Pope Francis to make a “historic” visit to Goa in the upcoming election year.
If the Vatican says yes, the Pope will visit the BJP-ruled state in 2014 for the “exposition of Jesuit St Francis Xavier”, a priest who heralded Christianity in Goa in early 1500. Incidentally, he is said to have played a part in the brutal acquisition of Goa in the 1540s, when Christianity was imposed using force and violence on the people. The Catholic Church arranges for its devotees to see the saint’s relics in a glass-topped silver casket once a decade, an event which is known as the “exposition”.
“We have earnestly requested his Holiness to visit the country for the exposition and have the active support of Goa’s ruling party in this endeavour. We hope that the Pope says yes,” said a priest with the Archdiocese of Goa who wishes to remain unnamed.
According to him, the BJP leadership has asked the Diocese to route the invitation through the Union Government as the state government, by itself, cannot invite the Pope as he happens to be a head of state. On its part, the saffron party is not keen on remembering the forced conversion issues associated with the evangelist. “St Francis is an icon for Goan Catholics. We would be proud to have the Pope in our land for the exposition. We are coordinating with the Church to make it happen,” said a BJP leader belonging to the Catholic community, who has been assigned the task of dealing with the church on the matter. “The visit may take place after the 2014 elections. However, the very fact that the Pope is visiting a BJP-ruled state will send good vibes to the minority Christian community,” he added. It will also work in favour of the BJP’s global image as the papal visit will hog international headlines.
When asked whether the Church is worried about the BJP extracting political mileage from the papal visit, the coordinating priest said that it has an open policy towards all political parties.
Incidentally, this ‘openness’ between the Catholic Church and the BJP is not a standalone development, but part of a strategy to work in tandem.
The BJP, it is learnt, has been consistently working on rebuilding its relationship with the Church and has even deputed a Kerala-based party sympathiser to arrange meetings with various Christian leaders.
The party had a good rapport with the Church when it was in power at the Centre. However, the Church shifted its loyalty when the Sonia Gandhi-headed Congress party came to power. Now, the Church is again keen on reviving its equations with the BJP. “It has sensed that the Congress’ time is over and that the BJP’s chances are getting stronger,” said a Goa BJP leader.
This revived bonhomie was evident when the Church invited Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to visit Rev Moran Mar Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, when he had visited Kerala to take part in the Sivagiri Mutt’s silver jubilee event amid high voltage protests by the Left parties. The Cardinal, who was part of the conclave that elected Pope Francis, was said to be ‘keen’ on meeting Modi. The plan was that Modi would drive from the airport to the Church headquarters.
Though the meeting had to be cancelled in the last minute due to ‘other preoccupations’ of the Gujarat CM, the BJP has been holding one-on-one meetings with Church leaders.
The fact that Modi was the chief guest at the National Consultation of the YMCA Brand Building in Ahmedabad last month is also seen as a pointer to the increased amiability between the Church and the BJP.