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Pope Francis accepts PM’s invite to visit India, calls it the ‘greatest gift’

The Pope also took time to explain to the Prime Minister about the different memorabilia in the Vatican, that houses centuries of religious objects and memorabilia of reverence, the Foreign Secretary said.

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Rome/New Delhi: Pope Francis has graciously accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to visit India, and said, “You have given me the greatest gift, I am looking forward to visiting India”, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said briefing media on the meeting between the PM and the pontiff earlier today.

He said the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Pope was “a very personal meeting, the meeting was characterized by warmth and candour”, and the two spoke on a number of issues and topics, ranging from the Covid pandemic, what India has done on tackling health issues, on climate change, on the environment, and also on a number of unique steps India has taken to help communities and people in distress around the world, including facilitating the evacuation of people in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan.

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The Pope also took time to explain to the Prime Minister about the different memorabilia in the Vatican, that houses centuries of religious objects and memorabilia of reverence, the Foreign Secretary said.

Asked if the issue of religious freedom came up in the talks, Foreign Secretary Shringla said: “There was no discussion on what you have alluded to, or was ever discussed. It was not a discussion on anything of that nature, it was completely devoid of any extraneous issues. It was confined to very, very warm and convivial conversation between the two leaders.”

He said the meeting was to last for 20 minutes but went on for an hour.

Asked if any date has been fixed for the Pope’s visit to India, the Foreign Secretary said “The two leaders did not discuss dates, the PM said please visit at your earliest convenience. The actual detail will be worked out through diplomatic channels. The significance of the invitation is well known to all of us. It is going to be a very important visit, both for India to receive his Holiness and for the Pope to visit India. The last papal visit was in 1999 when Pope John Paul II visited India.

He said the Pope “was delighted to visit India, though he has never been to India, he has a great sentiment about our country, and said ‘This is the greatest gift that you have given to me and I am looking forward to visiting India’.”
“Obviously a meeting that lasted much longer than scheduled, reflected the warmth and conviviality between the two,” he said, adding “And I saw that they both had a sense of great bonhomie and closeness that radiated when we went to pay our respects.”
The Prime Minister gifted Pope Francis a silver candlestick and a book on India’s commitment to the environment.
In return, the Pope gifted PM Modi a bronze plaque with the inscription “The desert will become a garden”, volumes of papal documents, his message for World Day of Peace and the document on Human Fraternity, signed on February 4 of 2019 in Abu Dhabi by the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.
After holding talks with the Pope, Modi was received by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher.

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