The Indian Government this week denied entry into the country to two Catholic priests from the Vatican. Archbishop Arthur Roche and Archbishop Protase Rugambwa had been assigned by the Vatican to attend a conference on 'Liturgy and Life' being held in Bangalore between February 3 and 9.
But on the inaugural day of the conference - which is organized by CCBI (Conference of Catholic Bishops of India) - the congregation was informed that the Indian Government had denied visa to the priests who had applied for it in mid-December. The congregation, according to information reaching from Bangalore, was informed that even intervention by the Vatican's Secretary of State failed to move Indian officials. These two apparently are not the only Vatican officials or Catholic priests denied entry into the country.
The denial of visa to officials of the Vatican comes in the wake of growing attacks on churches in the national capital and reports in the media that the government plans to crack down on NGOs funded by the Catholic Church among others.
Unfortunately the Government does not seem to harbour any interest in putting its cards on the table. No reason is cited for denial of visas and one can safely assume that no reason will be cited if and when there is a crack down.
According to unconfirmed reports when a delegation of Christian Bishops called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year and sought his intervention to stop vandals from ransacking churches in Delhi, he apparently said nothing to reassure them. He certainly did not utter any word of reassurance in public.
Christians constitute less than two per cent of the Indian population and are unevenly spread out. In Delhi itself their number is unlikely to exceed a few hundred thousand people. Therefore they do not pose any kind of threat but if Christian churches are still being targeted, they are again unlikely to be a mere coincidence.
There are 225 churches in New Delhi and in the last two months five of them have been vandalized in Dilshad Garden, Jasola, Rohini, Vikaspuri and in Vasant Kunj this week. The Home Ministry has twice prodded Delhi Police for action and sought a report on this week’s vandalism in Vasant Kunj. But the police has brushed aside complaints by saying that they were incidents involving burglary, theft and short-circuits. And the only case in which the vandals have been apprehended is because of a CCTV camera that worked. What next?
It is worth recalling that the paranoid Indian Government had long back disallowed foreign missionaries from teaching, researching or preaching in the country. Every single Indian who has studied in missionary and Jesuit schools and colleges would possibly vouch how these scholar priests are missed.
One such Catholic priest Fr Camille Bulcke is not only recognized as the foremost authority on Ramcharit Manas of Tulsidas but is also credited with the most authentic Hindi-English dictionary. Similarly Fr Hoffman and Fr Ponnette are credited with the monumental 16-volume Encyclopedia Britannica. Such examples can be extended to show how these scholars enriched our language and culture.