Gandhi, Jesus and the Vatican

Excerpts from an interesting article published in Italian weekly newspaper supplement “Domenicale del Sole24Ore” (“A Hindu Saint at the Vatican“, by Gianfranco Zizola, February 3, 2008), about the Mahatma’s presence in Rome at the end of 1931:

[… ] the opportunity arises for a unique meeting between the Roman Church and the Nonviolent movement. Gandhi is encouraged by an article published in the front page of the Osservatore Romano on November 27: “The Way Gandhi Speaks Of God“.

Signed “X”, the Vatican newspaper talks with surprising warmth of Gandhi’s speech at the Columbia Gramophone Company and traces in its language “memories of Aristotle and St Thomas“, hoping that “the voice of Christ may succeed in being listened also by this exceptional man, who shows so much love for the truth that makes free“.

However, Gandhi had met Jesus long time before. On the wall of his mud hut there was a black-and-white print with the image of Christ and the writing “He is our peace“. Reading the New testament, Gandhi felt attracted by the Sermon of the Mountain. “It’s the Sermon that made me love Jesus. Reading the story of his life in that light, it seems to me that Christianity hasn’t been realized yet. As long as we will not uproot violence from our civilization, it will be as if Christ had not been born. It’s the Sermon of the Mountain that revealed me the value of passive resistance. I was overflowing with joy reading `Love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you` “.

In a meeting in Losanna Gandhi confirmed of feeling attracted towards the figure of Jesus Christ, but of finding it difficult to embrace the Christianity distorted by Paul’s Greek mind and then recycled in the West. Once he asked: “What brotherly love can be given by people that believe they possess the absolute truth?

The meeting at the Vatican, unfortunately, does not materialize:

According to reports by the fascist Police the Vatican refusal could have depended on banal issues of clothing… because Gandhi “did not want to submit himself to a more decent attire“. Mussolini, he found the time to receive Gandhi at Palazzo Venezia. Another explanation is that the Pope feared, by receiving the “rebel“, to offend England. One third hypothesis will be formulated years later by Jawaharial Nehru: the refusal would have been motivated by the fact that “the Catholic Church does not approve of saints and mahatmas outside of its own jurisdiction“.

Gandhi obtains in any case the opportunity to visit the Vatican palaces

[… ] he walks several times around [the great Crucifix of the XV century above the altar of the Sistine Chapel], as if executing the Indian ritual of the circumambulation of a cult object. “It is not possible to avoid being touched [by this experience] to the point of tears“.

The idyll between Gandhi and the Vatican abruptly terminates after the Mahatma’s departure, as the forces of spiritual close-mindedness take the upper hand:

Less than two months after the meeting that did not happen, the “Catholic Civilization” magazine publishes two long articles about the pacifist leader, on February 6 and 20, 1932, without signature, as customary when coming from High Authority [… ] the first one explores the main elements of the “nationalist Indian agitator”’s biography and of his “Satyagraha” theory (“firmness in truth“), whose comparison also by some catholics to St Francis is seen as a “deplorable profanation“, while his independence program is defined “nefarious”. The second article criticizes Gandhi’s religious universalism, accusing him of trying to bring Hindu elements in Christianity in order to subordinate it to his nationalist goals, or at best to to dilute the Christian sense in a sea of indifferent sincretism.

Thirty-seven years had to pass to read, in the same “Catholic Civilization” (I, 1969) an article “Gandhi and Nonviolence” that acknowledges that “many of his ideas and methods have been adopted all over the world, becoming part of modern man’s common inheritance, and inspiring the fight for human freedom“. “It’s strange – it’s the conclusion – that while Christian nations resort to violence in order to achieve their goals, and try then to justify the violence, it had to be a Hindu, faithful and convinced, to discover the link between truth and nonviolence in the realization of social change“.

Unfortunately, that’s not strange at all, if the “Christian” nations have followed the example made by the Vatican when it avoided the “Indian nationalist agitator“.