Pope Francis is unlikely to visit India and Bangladesh this year as widely expected, a senior church official said Tuesday, with the high-profile visit postponed due to schedule clashes with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Pope had announced last year that he would “almost certainly” travel to South Asia in 2017 but no dates were officially confirmed.
A senior Indian church official told AFP the delay came about because the government in New Delhi had been unable to provide the Vatican with dates suitable for the papal visit.
“It takes a year to prepare for Pope’s visit and we don’t have enough time left. There was no clarity on the schedule,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“It’s unlikely he will visit this year.”
India’s foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Bagley said he was unaware of the matter.
Another church official said the visit had been postponed to the early months of 2018.
India’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias told the US-based National Catholic Reporter that discussions with the Modi government about a papal visit had taken longer than expected.
Finding a time that aligned with Modi’s schedule hosting world leaders had proven “a little bit of a difficult situation”.
“We have to find a good spot where we can give the Holy Father his due importance and respect,” the cardinal said.
It would be the second papal visit postponed this year, after the Vatican announced in late May it was delaying a trip to South Sudan for security reasons.
There are roughly 28 million Christians in India, the third-largest religion in the nation of 1.3 billion behind Islam and Hinduism.
Pope John Paul II was the last pontiff to visit India, and he made the journey twice. The late Pope first visited India in February 1986, followed by a return journey in 1999.
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