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Gandhi and the Popes

From Pius XI to Francis


Peter Gonsalves

Gandhi today is universally recognised as an international icon, but did his influence extend to the Vatican as well? The author unravels the answer by pursuing six research targets. The book opens with a historical inquiry into Gandhi’s unsuccessful attempt to meet Pius XI, and then goes on to examine the writings and speeches of the Popes from Pius XI to Benedict XVI who alluded to Gandhi. Adopting a hermeneutical slant, it also engages in a comparative study of the thoughts and actions of Pope Francis and Gandhi, and highlights some remarkable similarities that call for an explanation. In the process, the book explores and assesses the popular claim that Gandhi was influenced by Christ, and the not so popular conjecture that Francis was influenced by Gandhi.
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2. How the Popes Speak of Gandhi


2. How the Popes Speak of Gandhi

On his way back to India, after the RTC in London, Gandhi planned to break journey in Rome for a day before proceeding to the port of embarkation at Brindisi. The reason given to Romain Rolland for this stopover was: “I […] want to see the Pope, who sent me a kind message. […] And if the Pope wants to see me I shall go [to meet him].”1 It is not clear whether the ‘message’ of Pope Pius XI was the only reason for Gandhi’s papal meeting, but in proceeding with his plan, he was ignoring Rolland’s fears of his falling victim to Mussolini’s opportunism. From the previous chapter we know for sure that Gandhi did look forward to meeting the Pope and that Rolland’s fears were confirmed.

Strangely, the Pope’s ‘message’ does not appear anywhere in the meticulously documented 100-volume, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Even if it were a mere telegram, would it not have had the honour of being included?

Gianni Sofri, author of Gandhi in Italia, wonders if Gandhi alludes to a symbolical message, perhaps in the form of an Italian article that appeared in the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano on November 27, 1931, a fortnight prior to Gandhi’s arrival in Rome.2 It appeared in the sixth column of the front page and continued on the first column of the second. The title was, Come Gandhi parla di Dio (How Gandhi Speaks of...

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