A group of bishops from across India met with the country's new president and vice-president on Thursday, with both leaders voicing their support of the Church's work in spiritual development and assistance to the poor.
President Ram Nath Kovind, elected at the end of July, told the bishops Aug. 24 that he appreciated, in particular, the work the Church does for the poor and downtrodden in the country. He also said, as summarized in a statement from the bishops' conference, that while the whole world speaks of development, spirituality is also an important aspect of development, urging the bishops to continue to promote it.
Led by Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Syro-Malankara Major Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Trivandrum and president of the Indian bishops' conference, the bishops also included Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai; Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi; and Archbishop Filipe Neri do Rosario Ferrao of Goa and Daman. Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur, Archbishop Albert D'Souza of Agra, Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, and Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Auxiliary Bishop of Ranchi, were also part of the delegation. Bishop Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian bishops' conference, also accompanied eight representatives of the Archdiocese of Delhi in a meeting with the new vice-president of India, Venkaiah Naidu, Aug. 24.
In the hour-long meeting, arranged by the Archdiocese of Delhi, Naidu said he appreciated the selfless work of the Church, adding that the Christian community in India was a peaceful community which had contributed a lot to the growth of the country. He also said he remembered with affection his joyful association with the late Archbishop Samineni Arulappa, who died in 2005 after leading the Archdiocese of Hyderabad for almost 30 years.
India's presidency is largely a ceremonial role, while the prime minister is head of the government and leader of the executive branch. Naidu described the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, as a secular person, but one who is interested in including all in his development programs. Both the president and vice-president emphasized India’s secularity, and how this, since the beginning, has allowed for people to live in peace and harmony and “as one country,” which to continue is dependent on the end of the practice of vote banks.
For his part, Naidu laid blame with politicians for fomenting current divisions and for using caste and religious groups to form vote banks. He also called out the Gau Rakshak group, a Hindu nationalist organization which defends cows and which often commits acts of violence toward those suspected of slaughtering or consuming the animal, by saying that the cow is important, but that human beings are more important.
Cardinal Cleemis conveyed the good wishes and prayers of the Catholic Church toward Kovind and they gifted him a bouquet of flowers, a garland, and a framed picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. According to a statement, he said that though the Christian community in India is a small minority, it has always served the country and will continue to serve the country in health care, education, and other areas, in particular, serving the poorest of the poor and the marginalized. “We pray that God may bless you that you may continue to serve the country through your ministry,” he said.
During the visit with Naidu, Archbishop Couto congratulated him and assured him of the prayers of the Church. They presented him with a bouquet of flowers and a picture of St. Joseph with the Child Jesus. Accepting the picture, Naidu said that the image personified “compassion and love.”