NEW DELHI: Two Indian Catholics are about to be canonised as ‘saints’ in Vatican and Modi Government has decided to sent a three member delegation to Rome for the 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 headed 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 comprised 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 C Joseph.
“We don’t know whether it is deliberate. But why should GoI send non Catholics who does not look up to Rome or 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 former Labour and Employment Minister Oscar Fernandes and he was accompanied by a group of politicians including 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 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 GoI sends a delegation, it has to be secular in nature,’’ said the official. He further added that two of the members are Christians.
When pointed out the intricate variations in denominations within the delegation, 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.
The Catholic establishment is also upset with the fact that the selection of Kurien, whose name is involved in the infamous Suryanelly sex scandal, could make the sacred function controversial. Last time when he had gone to Rome for the anointment of Pope Francis, women’s organisations had made a hue and cry. Reacting to the news of his visit to Rome, the rape victim’s mother, who is a Catholic, had said that it is for “sinners like us to stay away and for puritans like him to meet the Pope.”
The Catholic establishment strongly feels that the delegation does not do justice to the two ‘saints’ who are going to be canonised.
“The government could have chosen either innocents or the actor-turned MP Jose K Mani from Kottayam whose constituencies cover the birthplace of the two saints,’’ the priest said.
The only solace the Catholic Church has is in the fact that the Kerala government headed by Oommen Chandy is sending two Catholic ministers—K C Joseph and P J Joseph as state government representatives.
With the canonisation on November 23, three Indians would find place in the long array of Catholic saints and they will be worshiped all over the world and prayers will be offered in their names.
The other person who has been canonised is Saint Gonsalo Garcia, born in Vasai near Mumbai to an Indian mother and Portuguese father in 1556. He was declared a saint in the 19th century.