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Explained: PM Modi’s momentous visit to the Vatican and his meeting with Pope Francis today

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican on Saturday (Image courtesy: Twitter/@NarendraModi)

Just before he attends the 16th G20 Leaders' Summit in Rome today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the Vatican City to call on Pope Francis and meet Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

Delegation-level talks are expected to be held after PM Modi's one-to-one meeting with the Pope where New Delhi and the Vatican will discuss various facets of bilateral ties and means to strengthen them.

On Friday, US President Joe Biden had started his trip to Italy with a private audience with the Pope and South Korean President Moon Jae-in also visited the Vatican Apostolic Palace.

Significance of the Vatican

The Vatican City State was born with the Lateran Treaty, stipulated between the Holy See and Italy on 11 February 1929 and ratified on 7 June 1929.

The Holy See is the universal government of the Catholic Church and operates from Vatican City State, a sovereign, independent territory. The Pope is the ruler of both Vatican City State and the Holy See. The Holy See, as the supreme body of government of the Catholic Church, is a sovereign juridical entity under international law.

It conducts diplomatic relations through its Secretariat of State and a network of diplomatic posts (known as Nunciatures), and maintains formal diplomatic relations with 183 countries.

It is also party to a number of international instruments (including a series of international human rights treaties) and enjoys membership of various United Nations subsidiary bodies, specialised agencies and international intergovernmental organisations.

There are 83 countries with resident diplomatic missions at the Holy See, in many ways a City State, including broad representation from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

India and the Vatican

Diplomatic relations between India and the Holy See were established soon after India's independence in 1948.

India has the second largest Catholic population in Asia including those from Kerala dating from Apostolic times and the Holy See has always acknowledged the importance of India, both in global and Asian terms.

Christianity is also India's third-largest religion with its followers constituting over 2.3% of India's population. There are over 20 million Catholics in India, which represents around 1.55% of the total population and the Catholic church is the largest Christian church within India.

A large number of Indians have joined various Roman Catholic Orders and many occupy high positions within the Catholic Church including in Rome. India and Indians have a positive image in the world Catholic community.

Modi Pope

Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan presenting the 'Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi’ Pope Francis in 2019 (Image courtesy: Twitter/@MOS_MEA)

In October 2019, Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan had led the Indian delegation to the Vatican City for the Canonisation Ceremony of Sister Mariam Thresia.

Born on 26 April 1876 in Kerala's Thrissur, Sister Mariam Thresia had founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1914. She passed away on 8 June 1926 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II on April 9, 2000.

Pope Francis has acted as a global advocate for human dignity and justice, placing particular emphasis on the moral imperative of caring for the poor and the marginalized.

Papal's India visits

There have been three Papal visits to India so far. The first Pope to visit India was Pope Paul IV, who visited Mumbai in 1964 to attend the International Eucharistic Congress.

Pope John Paul II visited India in February 1986 during which he visited different parts of India, including Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata and met with the Indian leadership. The Pope had held the late Mother Teresa in great esteem.

After her passing away, the Pope fast-tracked the process of verification leading eventually to the beatification of the Mother, one of the fastest in history as a gesture of goodwill and recognition of the work she did in India.

Pope John Paul II again visited India on a state visit from November 5-7, 1999. He met with the then President K R Narayanan, Vice President and the then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee.

PM Modi's meeting with Pope Francis, the first Pope from a developing country (Argentina), is expected to be centred around Covid-19, health, global peace and tranquillity.

Pope Francis has been acclaimed for bringing a breath of fresh air to the Papacy by placing special emphasis on addressing the issue of environmental degradation, equity and social justice.

Also Read: PM Modi in Italy, Day 1: India bonds with Rome and the EU