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India withholds entry visa of two RC archbishops

13 February 2015


Candlelight: RC bishops in India gather to protest against recent attacks on churches in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru

Candlelight: RC bishops in India gather to protest against recent attacks on churches in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru

THE Indian government has promised to investigate the denial of visas to two senior Vatican officials.

One of the men denied an entry permit was the Most Revd Arthur Roche, the former Bishop of Leeds, who is the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and one of the highest-ranking Englishmen in the Roman Catholic Church.

The other was the Most Revd Protase Rugambwa, the adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the Pontifical Missionary Societies.

Both Archbishops had applied for visas in mid-December so that they could attend the opening sessions of a meeting of Indian RC bishops in Bangalore.

Their applications were kept pending, and shortly before their departure they were informed by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India that they had been refused. Archbishop Roche, instead, gave his paper by teleconference, and took questions from Indian bishops by the same method.

The last-minute denial of visas to the pair prompted worldwide speculation that it signalled a collapse of Vatican-Indian relations amid rising persecution and harassment of Christians in the predominantly Hindu nation.

But the Archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, told the Catholic News Service, a news agency based in Washington, DC, that senior government officials had since apologised for the denial of the visas. He said that the Indian government had also assured him that it would launch an investigation into "what went wrong".

The episode comes amid rising violence against Christians, including a spate of arson attacks on five churches in Delhi since December.

Although there are 24 million Christians in India, they represent just over two per cent of a population that now exceeded one billion. More than 80 per cent of the population are Hindus, and most of the remainder are Muslims.

Church leaders in India have blamed the violence on the ascendancy of the Hindu nationalist party of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Christians are increasingly the victims of attacks by Hindu nationalists, who often accuse them of proselytising among people of lower caste.

They are also experiencing intimidation by police, who last week arrested nuns in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Delhi, and are reputed to have handled them roughly as they were bundled on to a bus.

This came as the Archbishop of Delhi, the Most Revd Anil Couto, made a formal request for police protection after an arson attack on St Sebastian's, in East Delhi, which provoked protests by Christians in the city.

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