A Report on the Three Cardinals’ visit to the Prime Minister of India
The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi met the three Cardinals – Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Cardinal George Alencherry and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis this morning from 11.15 a.m. for about 45 minutes. When the Cardinals emerged from the meeting, they all commented that it was a very cordial and a fruitful meeting and the Prime Minister was very much relaxed. This meeting was more of a dialogue and a conversation on wide ranging issues.
After the meeting, at the Press Conference held at Mizoram House, His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias in his opening remarks said that the Prime Minister had invited them for a conversation where they reviewed different works in the Church in India, at the national scene and particularly how the Church is working in different fields of education, medical and social welfare and how we can in the future even more collaborate with the Government. His Eminence then invited the press reporters to ask any questions.
In reply to a question whether the Cardinals had asked the Prime Minister about the proposal of inviting the Holy Father to India, Cardinal Oswald said that this was always in the mind of the Prime Minister. He is positive about this and has shared his eagerness to get the Holy Father to India. The Prime Minister has to find an appropriate time when the Holy Father can be invited. Cardinal Oswald Gracias commented that the present health and safety conditions in India do not warrant a visit of the Holy Father.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias raised the issue of the farmers and hoped that a just solution be found. The Prime Minister stated that the government was making every effort for this.
With regard to the release of Fr. Stan Swamy, Cardinal Oswald Gracias said that the Prime Minister is aware of the situation and is sympathetic. But this is taken care of by an independent agency and the Government does not want to interfere in the matter.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis shared with the Press what Cardinal Oswald Gracias had shared with the Prime Minister of the massive work and efforts done by the Catholic Church during the Covid pandemic. Rs 152 crores had been spent by the Church to take care of the poor during this pandemic. The different Caritas agencies in India reached out to over 2 crores population. Cardinal Gracias assured the Prime Minister that the Catholic Church will continue to engage in the emergency care for the people of India.
Speaking about the minorities in India, Cardinal George Alencherry shared with the Prime Minister that there should be equitable distribution of goods and services. He also spoke about the new Education Policy with the Prime Minister. Cardinal Alencherry insisted with the Prime Minister on religious harmony. The Prime Minister is open to all that was shared. He shared that much discussion had gone into before the formulation of the policy.
With regard to FCRA, the Prime Minister said that there were so many agencies getting foreign money and not maintaining proper accounts. Therefore, the Prime Minister had to be strict about that, to which Cardinal Alencherry said that we support that. Due to the misdeeds of some people, the others must not suffer.
With regard to the equitable distribution of funds, a reporter asked whether there was discrimination on the basis of religion and minorities. Cardinal Alencherry said that neither the Prime Minister nor the Cardinals spoke of any discrimination. Cardinal Cleemis said that this is the fund given by the Central Government to be distributed among the poor. What the Cardinals asked the Prime Minister was to make a point of justice so that the funds are fairly distributed. No one should be ignored and this distribution should be done in an equitable manner. The Prime Minister assured the Cardinals that he will look into the matter.
Cardinal Alencherry spoke to the Prime Minister about certain difficulties faced in the Kerala Church. Cardinal Cleemis shared how the issue of poorest of the poor was raised with the Prime Minister. Mention of the promotion of the Dalit people was made with particular reference to the Christians of Dalit community. These are groups of people who need to be treated and brought to the mainstream of society. The Prime Minister was very positive about this and we have assured our support to this where the Dalits can be brought to the mainstream of the society. How and what means to be followed, they were not clear about that but an appropriate study needs to be made about this, to make provisions for them so that justice can be given to them.
Cardinal Cleemis thanked the efforts made by the Honourable Governor of Mizoram for facilitating this meeting. Unfortunately, the Governor could not be present because he is under quarantine in Kerala. It was a very refreshing experience for the Government to invite the three Cardinals and to listen to them. The Governor of Mizoram is a very open to all communities and not just the Christians. Since now he is the Governor of Mizoram, he understands the Christians very well as there are more than 80% Christians in Mizoram. Therefore, he has learnt to appreciate the work of the Christian community. We appreciate the many efforts the Governor had taken for today’s meeting. The invitation for this meeting came from the Prime Minister, which was very important for us.
The Cardinals were asked if any constitutional amendment was suggested to the Prime Minister to allow the Dalit to come to the reservation category. It was suggested to the Prime Minister that the criteria for assistance should be economic and not religion.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias said that he had previously clarified to the Prime Minister that the Church is not political by nature. The Church is not for any political party; it is always apolitical. What we always look for is good governance. We look for the care for the poor, economic growth and development of the people, justice and progress of the country.
Cardinal Alencherry said that the Church is a reality in society and always in dialogue with the Government for the betterment of the poor. Cardinal Oswald Gracias thanked all the press reporters that came for this press conference.
The meeting ended with the mutual thanksgiving and the Prime Minister inviting the Cardinals to approach him if they have any issue to discuss.
Fr Jervis D’Souza
Deputy Secretary General, CBCI
19th January 2021