MUMBAI, India – India’s former foreign minister Sushma Swaraj was a “great Indian,” according to Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
Swaraj died on Aug. 6 of a heart attack, at 67. She served as India’s foreign minister from 2014 until May 30, 2019. She decided to step away from politics for health reasons, after undergoing a kidney transplant in December 2016.
Gracias noted he first got to know Swaraj when she was serving as India’s Health Minister from 2003-2004.
“From the interactions I had with her, I sensed that she brought a human touch to all decisions of the Ministry,” the cardinal said.
“As Foreign Minister, she was our best Ambassador and projected a great image of the country in international circles. All Indians abroad who were in any difficulty found in her a sympathetic Minister who went out of her way to help them. I recall with gratitude her interest and assistance for the release of the Salesian, Father Tom Uzhunnalil who was kept in captivity in Yemen for over a year,” he added.
Uzhunnalil was kidnapped on March 4, 2016, when terrorists attacked a care facility run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden. Four sisters and 12 others were killed in the attack.
The priest was released on Sep. 12, 2017, after long diplomatic negotiations involving India and the Gulf state of Oman.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Uzhunnalil expressed his condolences upon learning about Swaraj’s death.
“I feel so sad about the demise of such a beloved and pleasant personality. Of course, I prayed in the first instance for her soul and then prayed for her near and dear ones,” he said.
The priest recalled meeting her after his release.
“Her conversation with me was more than an official authority as a minister. I felt like she was speaking to me like an elder sister. That was my feeling, the style of conversation, the things she spoke to me,” Uzhunnalil told the newspaper.
“She warmly welcomed me, assured me all assistance and wished me speedy recovery of health. I do not know what exactly she did (for my release) because I didn’t know what was happening here while I was coming out. I wish to thank her in a position like this, thanking God for her in the various ways she has been instrumental in my freedom from captivity,” he said.
Swaraj led the 12-member delegation from India that travelled to Rome in 2016 for the canonization of Mother Teresa.
Gracias said the foreign minister “had a special devotion” to the nun who ministered to the poor of Kolkata.
“She met Pope Francis on that occasion and the Holy Father later remarked ‘The Indian Foreign Minister is a very spiritual person’,” the cardinal recalled.
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