Mumbai, April 13: When Pope Francis smiled at him immediately after winning the papal vote last month, the Archbishop of Bombay had no inkling he would soon be the holder of the highest post any Indian has ever secured in the Vatican hierarchy.
The Pope today named Cardinal Oswald Gracias, 68, on his advisory board of eight cardinals from around the world who will help him govern the Catholic Church and reform its troubled central administration. No Indian has held the position before.
The "surprised" cardinal, a cancer survivor, tonight recalled that when the final votes were counted in the papal election, he was sitting just across the table from Pope Francis.
"He smiled at me and nodded; then he put his hands together, bowed his head and prayed for a very long time," Cardinal Gracias told The Telegraph.
"The news of the selection has come as a surprise, but the decision reflects the Vatican's growing realisation that the Catholic Church needs a more pan-global representation in its highest echelons. Pope Francis has a great desire to understand India and the decision is a recognition for India."
Anger at the mostly Italian prelates who run the Curia ' the central governing bodies of the Church ' was one of the reasons the cardinals chose the first non-European Pope in 1,300 years. It was also the reason that six of the eight cardinals on the team of papal advisers are from outside Europe, suggested a source in the Bombay Catholic Sabha.
Last month, Cardinal Oswald spent considerable time with Pope Francis when they shared quarters at Santa Martha, the lodgings for Vatican workers in Rome. Both speak Italian. "We talked a great deal about India."
A Goan Christian, Cardinal Gracias grew up in Mumbai and is equally adept in Konkani, Marathi, Hindi and English. Many old-timers at Colaba's Wodehouse Church remember his sermons in different languages.
The Archbishop is fond of Calcutta, a city he would "often visit during my younger days when I was attached to the diocese of Jamshedpur".
He plans to invite the Pope to India when he meets him in October at the advisory board's first meeting in Rome. He promised to put in a request for a trip to Calcutta if and when the pontiff visits the country.