By Robin Gomes
India’s Catholic Church has expressed profound sadness at the death of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 93.
Vajpayee headed India’s government three times: first for just 13 days in 1996, for 13 months in 1998, and then from 1999 to 2004.
Indian Church’s homage
“In his death, India has lost one of its tallest leaders and the world bids good bye to one of its greatest statesmen. The Christian Community has lost a friend who was attentive to its needs and gave a patient hearing to its concerns,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India wrote in a condolence statement.
Vajpayee died at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, where he had been hospitalized for more than two months with a kidney infection and chest congestion. He had suffered a stroke in 2009.
His funeral ceremony, including his cremation, took place Friday afternoon in the capital.
Warm human relationships
In his condolence message, Cardinal Gracias noted that what endeared Vajpayee to all was “his graceful dealings with all”. “He will be remembered as a person who cultivated warm human relationships cutting across religious, political or regional divides.”
The Indian bishops president recalled Vajpayee’s speech in his last Independence Speech where he said “India is a multi-religious nation. It is against both its nature and culture to practice discrimination or to do injustice to anybody on the grounds of faith. We should always care for the minorities and be attentive towards their welfare."
Cardinal Gracias, who has had several encounters with Vajpayee, noted the warmth of his person, his sharp intellect and his passion for the country. “He wanted an India where no was one was excluded, no one suffered want, and everyone enjoyed the benefits of progress.”
John Paul II, Mother Teresa
Vajpayee was prime minister when St. Pope John Paul II visited India in 1999. Vajpayee thanked the Pope for being in India on the occasion of Deepavali, the festival of lights.
Cardinal Gracias recalled the tribute that the late prime minister paid to Mother Teresa at her death in 1997. "At a time when humankind is being increasingly driven by selfish motives, she gave selflessly to those whom society has forsaken and forgotten. In the age of cynicism she was a symbol of understanding faith," Vajpayee had said.