Pope Francis has accepted an invitation from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit, in a turnaround in relations with the Vatican following the failure of negotiations for a papal trip to the predominantly Hindu nation in 2017.
There are about 20 million Roman Catholics in India, about 1.5% of the population of 1.3 billion. Some 80% of India’s people are Hindu.
The last pope to visit India was John Paul II, who went to New Delhi in 1999 to issue a papal document on the Church in Asia.
The Indian Foreign Ministry said the invitation was for the pope “to visit India at an early date, which was accepted with pleasure”.
e meeting between Francis and PM Modi, the first between a pope and an Indian prime minister in more than two decades. PM Modi is in Rome to attend the G20 summit of the world’s richest countries.
The invitation came after Mr Modi shared images of his first private meeting with the Pope at the Vatican.
The Indian prime minister is attending the G20 summit of major world economies being held in Rome.
Analysts suggest Mr Modi’s invitation is significant because of concerns about an increase in discrimination and violence against religious minorities in India, including Christians.
Mr Modi’s party, the BJP, has been accused of pursuing a pro-Hindu identity and agenda – something he denies.
Pope Francis has frequently signaled his desire to visit India.
In 2016 he said he was “almost sure” that a trip would be arranged for the following year. But despite his visit to neighboring Bangladesh and Myanmar, Indian Catholic leaders failed to convince Mr Modi to extend an invitation to the pontiff.
Reuters with additional input by GVS