Was John Paul II Anointed by a “Priestess of Shiva”?

Q: Someone in the schismatic group the Society of St. Pius X told me that when the pope was in India he had his forehead anointed by a Hindu “priestess of Shiva” and that there is a photo to prove it. Is this true?

A: There is a photo of the pope having his forehead anointed by an Indian woman, but she was a Catholic, not a Hindu priestess! She was giving the pope a traditional Indian form of greeting known as “Aarti,” which has no more religious significance than a handshake in western culture or giving someone a wreath of flowers as a welcome in Hawaii.

A letter dated November 22, 1994 from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications explains the custom and its role in Indian society:

“Indian Catholics . . . use ‘Aarti’ when a child returns home after receiving First Holy Communion, and when a newly married couple are received by their respective families. Nowadays, ‘Aarti’ is often performed to greet the principal celebrant at an important liturgical event, as it was on the occasion shown in the photograph. On such occasions, ‘Aarti’ is usually offered by a Catholic married lady, and certainly not by a ‘priestess of Shiva’ as has been alleged.”

The letter, by Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the pontifical council, went on to note: “Use of the ‘Aarti’ ceremonial by Indian Catholics is no more the worship of a heathen deity than is the decoration of a Christmas tree by American Christians a return to the pagan rituals of Northern Europe.”

Your schismatic friend in the Society of St. Pius X should check his facts before spreading such malicious gossip about the holy father (cf. Acts 23:1-5). He was simply about to say Mass and received the traditional Indian form of greeting for the celebrant.


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