Rome — This week, the group of seven cardinals who advise Pope Francis on Curia reform and Church affairs met in Rome.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay (Mumbai), India, has been a member of the council of cardinals (C7) since it was created by Francis at the beginning of his pontificate. The prelate spoke with Crux about the new Constitution for the Roman Curia – the Church’s central government – currently being reviewed by Pope Francis; the challenges Christians face in India, with a new anti-conversion bill being debated; and the Latin American Ecclesial Assembly, held in late November, in which he participated as one of the “foreign” guests.
Crux: What brought you to Rome this time?
Gracias: I came for a meeting of the C7 with the Holy Father, that is of the Council of Cardinals. We had meetings from Monday to Wednesday. In the past 18 months, we had meetings over video conference with the Holy Father, but this time, he invited us to come physically. Of course, with coronavirus you never know, but we were able to keep 100 percent attendance.
And how was it to meet in person for the first time in 18 months?
I was personally very happy to see the pope. He seemed very healthy, perhaps even in better health than the last time I had seen him. He’s had some time to rest, it seems, because he did not seem tired at all. He was very energetic, engaged and interested in what we were suggesting.
And today it’s his birthday, so as I was headed to the airport, I wished him a happy birthday. I have to insist on this, he was very good. And the meeting went well, because having lost the past 18, 20 months, there was much that need to be discussed, and it was good to reconnect in person, because obviously, it’s not the same to speak through a computer screen.
You have been working for the past several years on the new constitution for the Roman Curia. How is that coming, and will we be seeing it soon?
I hope we will. We made our recommendations to the Holy Father when we presented it to him. But evidently, he wants to make it his own and he is personally studying it, going through it carefully. He did tell us that he liked it, so there’s no real indication that he will be making any major changes to what we presented. And of course, he was present during our discussions, so he knows the background of every line that we put in there. But it is very clear that for him, this is a very important document, so he wants to study. But we have finished our job with it, so we are not even revising it.
We’ve seen through the reporting of Crux contributor Nirmala Carvalho that there seems to be an uptick of anti-Christian persecution in India these days, with a priest narrowly escaping an attack with a machete, Hindu nationalists attacking a Catholic School and a new anti-conversion bill. Are you concerned about it?
I have to begin by saying that I have been out of India for several days already, as I was in Rome for a week and before that, in Mexico for four days. Therefore, I really don’t have a direct knowledge of what is going on on the ground, even though I have been obviously on the phone with the bishops. There seems to me that there are mainly concerns in Karnataka, where the archbishop is concerned that the anti-conversion bill is primarily targeted against minorities. I will know more once I get home, but the bishop has told me that there are problems, and we will have to see what can be done.
Before coming to Rome, you were in Mexico taking part in the Ecclesial Assembly organized by the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean. What are your impressions of that meeting?
It was very impressive. It was different to what we are used to, so I was happily surprised and learned a lot. I was very hesitant to go in the beginning, but they insisted, and now I am very glad that they did. It was perhaps a new way to hold an assembly, and it was important to be there, so that we can now reflect what can be learned from their system, and imitate what they did.
It was a hybrid meeting, with some 100 people present, and some 900 online. It was an experiment, and though it didn’t work a 100 percent, it is a new way to exercise synodality, and as such, we have to learn from it.
They had planned it before the Synod on Synodality was announced, but I think it was God preparing the road. South Americans are by far, the leading Church, I believe, on what is synodality and lay participation in the life of the Church. I’m hoping to keep in touch with them, so that we can discuss and explore different possibilities for the Universal Church.
And are you hoping to perhaps do something similar in India, which as a country has a larger population than Latin America as a continent?
Certainly, but realistically, we might not be ready for that yet. But you know, we can learn and gradually come to that. We do have some experience on this, but also some limits. However, it would be very good to see something like that, both in India and also in the Asian conference of bishops. We will be meeting early in the new year, and I will share what happened in Mexico, what we learned there, and discuss what we can imitate, and of course, what we can improved from what they did, because as I said, it was an experiment!