NEW DELHI: Two Indian Catholics are about to attain ‘sainthood’ in Vatican and Narendra Modi Government has decided to send a three-member delegation to Vatican for the canonisation ceremony as a mark of respect. The story should have ended on a happy note there. But it has not, thanks to the ‘secular’ nature of the delegation.
The canonisation ceremony-where two revered Catholic figures -- Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sr Euphrasia Eluvathinkal, will be declared as ‘saints’ by Pope Francis - will be held on November 23.
The Modi Government’s decision has stirred up factional feelings within the Christian community as the delegation has no Catholics in it. As of now, the delegation is being led by Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P J Kurien and two other MPs. Kurien is a Marthomite and he owes no allegiance to the Pope or Rome. The other two members are TDP MP P Raveendra Babu and Nagaland Peoples Front MP Neiphiu Rio. While the former is a Hindu, Neiphiu, a three-time Nagaland Chief Minister, is a Protestant Christian.
“All delegations till date had included Catholics. It is for the first time that an official Indian delegation is going to Vatican with no Catholics in it,” said Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) spokesperson Fr K C Joseph. “We don’t know whether it is deliberate. But why should the Centre send non-Catholics, who do not look up to Rome or the Pope, to this sacred function,” asked another priest with the CBCI.
He said that the previous 13-member delegation for the canonisation of St Alphonsa during the UPA Government in 2008, comprised entirely of Catholics. The delegation was headed by the then Union Labour and Employment Minister Oscar Fernandes and he was accompanied by K M Mani, K V Thomas, P C Thomas and others. The CBCI is planning to take up the matter with the PM, said the priest.
But sources in the government said there will not be any change in the members of the delegation. “The government decided to send a delegation as the CBCI had written to both the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) requesting the same. And when the Centre sends a delegation, it has to be secular in nature,” said the official. He further said that two of the members are Christians.
When the intricate variations in denominations was pointed out, the official said that a secular government need not think about all these intricacies in a hair splitting manner.
“It is an official delegation and whoever goes, he or she is representing the country,’’ he said. He pointed out that it was Vice-President Hamid Ansari who had represented the country when Pope Francis was anointed.
“But that was an official function as Pope is also the Head of the Vatican. But this is purely a religious function,’’ said a priest.