Pope John Paul II had visited India in the year of 1999 (November 5th to 8th). Considering the religious situation of the country for the past couple of centuries, many had expected some unpleasant situation to arise out of this visit. Thankfully, even in the midst of protests and ill-feelings, the Pope visit was peaceful. India, having experienced the coming and perpetuation of Islam followed by Christianity (throughout history), was very apprehensive of any ‘secret agenda’ the Sovereign of Vatican may be involved with, in terms of large scale conversion of Hindus. The ones who were most concerned and uneasy about the Pope visit to India were the religious political parties.
On 7th November 1999 the Pope visited the Samadhi of the ‘Father of the Nation’ Mahatma Gandhi and offered floral tributes. In the memorial guest book he wrote ‘a culture cannot survive if it attempts to be exclusive’. Although it appears that this quote was borrowed from the ideas of the Mahatma himself, it was certainly made in an effort to convince the apprehensive Indian religious leaders that the Papal institution had no intention of imposing their religion on another.
But on November 8th 1999, his comments during the Papal High mass gave the opponents a reason to ascertain that his visit was actually a hidden conversion agenda. He sated that, “The first millennium saw the cross planted in soil of Europe, the second in America and Africa. May the third Christian Millennium witness a great harvest of faith on this vast and vital continent.”
Professor Rajendra Singh, chief of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), did not take this with ease and placed their demand of making the Pope declare that all religions lead to truth and are equally effective path to salvation and one should not insist that it is only Christ or, Christianity that can take a man to Heaven. A representative of Arya Pratinidhi Sabha went on to comment that the honor of state guest should not be extended to the Pope because his visit was not political but religious. Same was questioned by Swami Dayananda Saraswati when he asked the court to clarify whether the visit of Pope John Paul II was religious or, political.
In retaliation to the raging controversies, the government took a very positive stand. The Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India) had made it very clear much before the Pope visit in a press conference that India and the Vatican has been sharing a very cordial relationship since 1948 and Pope John Paul II will be accorded the benefits enjoyed by any state guest. The fact remains that even though controversies and opposition had taken place during the visit, it had brought about some good effects. The government can be credited for making this visit a peaceful one.
Even today the positive influence of the Pope can be felt through 24” bronze statues of him carved almost to perfection, capturing the minutest details of this great personality.