Pope Francisĺ message is one that India and Pakistan must hear.
ôYour Holiness, please come to India.ö ôYes, next year,ö Pope Francis answered softly but emphatically and with a smile. The twinkle in his eyes accentuated his joy at meeting an Indian and showed the popeĺs keenness to visit a country he knows should have been on his itinerary earlier.
The pontiff was meeting nearly 500 participants Ś from all over the world Ś of the inter-faith conference in the holy town of Assisi in Italy (18-20 September). The moment was special; we had assembled to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the meet of leaders and representatives of all religions convened in 1986 by Pope John Paul II. The place too was special Ś the scenic mountain-top Basilica of St. Francis (1182-1226), whose name and mission the pope has chosen for his papacy.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, whom his ardent admirer, Mahatma Gandhi, described as ôa great yogi in Europeö, Pope Francis has been passionately advocating inter-faith harmony and protection of the environment. His encyclical on climate change, released before the Paris Summit, is a searing indictment of the ecological destruction in our time. This has earned him the epithets, ôGreen Popeö and ôPoor Manĺs Popeö.
In Assisi, he was the pope of nonviolence. He had come to specially greet the conference, organised by the Community of Santĺegidio, a Vatican-inspired body, that has been holding inter-faith meets every year in different cities in Europe since 1986. I have been participating in these annual conferences for the past few years as a Hindu representative.
I presented four of my books to the pope. The first caught his attention, for it is titled, Mahatma Gandhi, St. Francis and Pope Francis Ś Three great men and their endeavours to combine God-ward devotion with Man-ward love. He showed much interest in the title of my book on Mahatma Gandhi Ś Music of the Spinning Wheel. The next, on Swami Vivekananda, needed some explanation since he did not seem to know ôthis great Hindu monk who was a pioneer of inter-faith dialogue Ś he gave an inspiring speech at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. I also gave him, Fatwa on terrorism and suicide bombings by Pakistanĺs renowned Islamic scholar, Tahir-ul-Qadri, the Indian edition of which carries my introductory essay.