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Freedom of faith basic right: Pope
Bishops asked to spread Christianity
Tribune News Service and agencies

NEW DELHI, Nov 6 — Emphasising that peace and religion go together, Pope John Paul II today said that the freedom of belief and worship should be respected in every part of Asia.

Describing freedom of faith as the most basic of rights, the supreme leader of the Catholic Christian Church said if this was denied, the whole edifice of human dignity and freedom was shaken.

The Pope said in some cases, Asian Christians dwelled in lands scarred by conflicts, which at times seemed the effect of religion. "What a travesty of true belief this is. People of all religions must emphatically show that religion and peace go together,’’ the Pope said minutes before signing and making public the ‘Ecclesia in Asia’, the 141-paged document marking the conclusion of the Asian Synod which met in the Vatican last year.

"But let there also be peace for religion. Let the freedom of belief and worship be respected in every part of this continent. 'Ecclesia in Asia’ clearly notes that in parts of Asia explicit proclamation is forbidden and religious freedom is denied or systematically restricted. In such situations, the Church bears witness through a ‘taking up of her cross’, all the while urging governments to recognise religious freedom as a fundamental human right,’’ the Pope said.

The "Ecclesia in Asia", to enunciate which the Pope has come to India, was promulgated at a special function at Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Capital this evening.

The Pope asked his Bishops to make "ever greater efforts" to spread Christianity across Asia, even as he demanded that freedom of belief and worship be respected everywhere in the continent.

"In presenting the fruit of the Synod’s work in the post-Synodal apostolic exhortation, ‘Ecclesia in Asia’, you the Bishops are being asked to make ever greater efforts to spread the gospel of salvation throughout the length and breadth of the human geography of Asia," the Pope said.

The Pope started his speech with a special mention of the cyclone victims of Orissa.

In an oblique reference to allegations of forced conversions by the Church, he said: "Let no one fear the Church. Her one ambition is to continue Christ’s mission of service and love so that the light of Christ may shine more brightly and the life that he gives may be more accessible to those who hear his call.’’

Proclaiming the Synod document, the Pope said it was an "ardent affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ, the Saviour, and it remains a call to conversion so that the Church in Asia might become ever more worthy of the graces continually being offered by God.’’

He declared that the Church’s engagement with Asian cultures had a special urgency today as in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural situation there, Christianity was still too often seen as foreign.

Strongly supporting inter-faith dialogue, the Pope said in the process of empowering the world’s different cultures, the Church not only transmitted the truths and values and renewed cultures from within, but also took from them their positive elements.

"This is the obligatory path for evangelisers in presenting the Christian faith and in making it a more effective instrument of mission.’’

The Pope said the Synod recognised the ancient religious tradition and civilisations, the profound philosophies and wisdom which made Asia what it was today.

The Pope said the Asians were known for their spirit of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

The Synod document pays tributes to Mother Teresa for her selfless care of the poor.

The eagerly-awaited document charts out the course for the Church in the next millennium, touching upon various facets of life and modern-day challenges like globalisation, foreign debt, environment, health and education.

While focusing on the role and problems faced by Asian women, the Synod opposed abortions and expressed concern over female illiteracy and female foeticide and infanticide.

The pontiff travelled in his bullet-proff "Popemobile" from the Vatican Embassy, where he is staying, to Sacred Heart Cathedral. The security accompanying him was equivalent to that given to the President. People were seen standing on roadsides, waiting for a glimpse of the Pope.

After the conclusion of the special function at the Cathedral packed to capacity by with clergy and laity, the Pope was mobbed by the people and went around shaking hands with them.

The President, the Prime Minister and the Vice-President today made a conscious effort to dispel the impression that religious freedom in the country was under threat during their talks with Pope John Paul II.

Contentious issues like atrocities on Christians and religious conversion did not find a mention during the official talks between the visiting Pope John Paul II and the Indian leaders as the President, Mr K.R. Naryanan, stressed on freedom of religion being the cornerstone of India.

In an apparent reference to protests by Sangh Parivar outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad on the issue of conversion demanding a Papal apology, the President, however, admitted that "some intolerant fringe groups have been seen of late"and "the principle of freedom of religion was paramount" in India.

During the 20-minute talks held at Hyderabad House, the Prime Minister told the visiting dignitary that the Indian Constitution was secular in character and there was a total freedom of religion in India.

Dressed in his traditional white cassock, white skull cap and a golden cross on his chest, the Pope shook hands with dignitaries and stood with them as scores of lensmen, from the national and international media, clicked away the historic moment.

The pontiff, on his second visit to India since 1986, appreciating the general atmosphere of tolerance in India, said this was part of the country's rich tradition of tolerance. He observed there was ‘‘more religious freedom" in India than many other nations.


Shiv Sainiks protest at Rajghat, 6 held
TNS and Agencies

NEW DELHI, Nov 6 — Fifteen Shiv Sainiks were today arrested while holding black-flag demonstrations at Rajghat and Hyderabad House where Pope John Paul II was to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee this morning.

While six of them were arrested at Rajghat, nine were taken into custody at Hyderabad House.

A Shiv Sena spokesman said the police also used force to disperse the demonstrators. However, the police denied this . The spokesman said three of their workers were injured.

With today’s arrests, the total number of Shiv Sainiks taken into custody by the police during the past three days went up to 52, the Sena spokesman added.

He said five Shiv Sainiks, including their leaders Jai Bhagwan Goel, Rajinder Raja, Om Dutt Sharma and Dharminder Bittu were arrested on Thursday while 32 were nabbed yesterday.

The Delhi Police today arrested three Sena activists, including vice president of the Delhi unit, Mr Surendra Sharma, when they tried to show black flag to Pope John Paul II, moments before he was to arrive at Rajghat this morning.

The Shiv Sena activists were arrested the moment they got down at Rajghat bus stand from a car and took out black cloth and shouted slogans, the police said.

The three Shiv Sena members apart from Mr Sharma were party’s state executive member Mr Sanjay Sharma and Chandni Chowk district president Mr Devendra Singh Munna, the police added.

The Shiv Sena activists shouted "stop conversion" and "stop conversion under the grab of service" and pro Bal Thackeray, the Joint Commissioner of Police, Mr Suresh Roy said.

Mr Roy described the incident as a "stunt" and added that tight security is being maintained at all places.

The Shiv Sena press secretary, Mr Sandeep Aggarwal, claiming responsibility for the incident, demanded the Pope to apologise for the alleged atrocities on Hindus by the Church in Goa, Vasai and Kerala during the Portuguese rule.

The Shiv Sena did not rule out similar demonstrations during Pope’s stay in the Capital.


Vatican defends conversions

NEW DELHI, Nov 6 (PTI) — The Vatican today sought to defend conversions, saying these were not an inter-religious affair but a matter of human rights.

‘‘The topic of conversion or no-conversion is more than an inter-religious matter... a topic for human rights,’’ Papal spokesman Jacquine Navarro Valls accompanying the Pope said here today.

‘‘An individual should have the freedom as to what kind of religion he or she wanted to follow for life’’, he said, adding ‘‘even though the problem was small in the country, the topic itself was rather serious.’’

‘‘One of the main characteristics of a democracy was the extreme care it took for the minorities, otherwise it would cease to be a democracy,’’ he added.

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