ROME – Following his 75-minute meeting with U.S. president Joe Biden Friday, Pope Francis on Saturday welcomed India’s Prime Minister Narenda Modi to the Vatican for 55 minutes, still long by Vatican standards.

Virtually no information was given by either side regarding the content of their discussion.

“During a brief conversation, the cordial relations between the Holy See and India were discussed,” said a statement released by the Vatican’s press office afterwards, following meetings with Francis, his Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and his second in command, British Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

Modi himself took to Twitter to tell his over 72 million followers that he’d had a “very warm meeting” with the pope.

“I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues with him and also invited him to visit India,” he wrote in a message illustrated with four pictures.

Speaking with Crux soon after the meeting was over, Mumbai’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias said he was “happy” that Modi had reached out to the pope, and that he’s sure “good will come out from this meeting. For me, this is a matter of joy.”

“I’m delighted and overjoyed that the Prime Minister has invited the Holy Father to India,” the cardinal said. “The Holy Father has always told me of his desire to come. Pope Francis will be happy to see the faith of the Indian people, the spirituality of the people of other faiths. The diversity and culture of us Indians will touch the heart of the Holy Father.”

Gracias also said that a papal visit would be very good for “all the peoples of our beloved motherland India and the pope will be welcomed by peoples of all faiths… I am delighted and happy and thankful to our Prime Minister for extending the invitation to the Holy father.”

The fact that climate change was part of their discussions was made evident by one of Modi’s gifts to The Climate Climb: India’s Strategy, Actions and Achievements.

Though Francis chose to skip Glasgow’s major United Nations’ sponsored summit on climate change, the COP26, set to start on Monday, the pope’s concern for the environment and his willingness to lend the weight of the office to the cause has not dwindled: in a span of three weeks, he met with the heads of four of the world’s seven biggest

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and Pope Francis hug on the occasion of their private audience at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Modi is in Rome for the Group of 20 summit. (Credit: Vatican Media via AP.)

polluting countries. Earlier this month he met with German chancellor Angela Merkel, and on Friday with Biden and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in.

RELATED: Pope’s meeting with India’s PM could be more important than Biden visit

Gracias, who seats in the council of cardinals who advice the pope on the reform of the Church’s central government, also said that the two leaders have “elements in common,” and that when two parties dialogue, it’s important to start on that over which they agree.

“It’s important that the Church and the Government work together, and I know this is what the Holy Father wants,” Gracias said. “And a meeting of minds will result in further collaboration. In their case, both are very committed to fighting climate change. Another element they have in common is their care for those who are very poor, with the government’s policy changing, clearly reaching out more to the ‘peripheries’ the Holy Father speaks of.”

The cardinal also said that he hopes to meet with Modi once he’s back in India, so that they continue the dialogue and follow up to the meeting with initiatives that foster greater understanding and collaboration.

Regarding a possible visit to India, Pops Francis is on record saying that he wants to visit this nation, and Crux has been able to confirm that the schedule for a papal visit to India had, in fact, been drafted several years back.

Yet a formal invitation from the Indian government had never materialized, and as a head of state, a pope cannot visit a foreign country solely at the invitation of the local Church.

Statistically speaking, Francis and Modi lead a similar number of people: The world has a little over 1.35 billion Catholics, and India has some 1.35 billion citizens, less than three percent of whom are Christians, and a wide majority of the population Hindu.

One question the two men were expected to discuss is religious freedom. Sources have told Crux that many within the Catholic hierarchy in India were hoping this meeting would help Christians on the ground: 16 of India’s 28 states regularly witness attacks on Christians, including murder, physical assaults, vandalism of churches, and the arrest of people for so-called “forced conversion.”

Violence against religious minorities is compounded by the failure of the police to investigate the perpetrators, seemingly emboldened by the prime minister’s silence.

Modi is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled India since 2014. The BJP is associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group. Since the BJP took over, religious minorities have complained of increased harassment by rightwing Hindu groups.

The Holy Father’s willingness to dialogue with Modi on the issues they have in common does not mean the Vatican is blind to the dangers Christians face in India due to extremism. The day before the meeting, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue released a message for Deepavali, one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus, which falls on 4 November this year.

“By being interdependent and working in solidarity with others, we shall emerge out of every crisis better,” says the message, referring to Hindus and Christians working together. “Even the pressing global issues that threaten to disrupt the harmony between nature and people and the harmonious co-existence of people such as climate change, religious fundamentalism, terrorism, hyper nationalism, xenophobia can be effectively addressed since these are concerns that affect us all.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma