POPE John Paul arrived in New Delhi, India, Feb 1 for a 10-day, 14-city visit amidst very tight security and controversy.
Weeks before the Pope arrived, fundamentalist Hindu groups opposed the visit alleging the Pope planned to convert 200,000 people during his visit.
The Pope quickly allayed such fears in his arrival speech after a 21-gun salute and a warm welcome from the Indian government.
"My purpose in coming to India has both religious and human dimension. I come to pay a pastoral visit to the Catholics of India and I come in friendship with a deep desire to pay honour to all your people and to your different cultures' the Pope said after greeting the crowd of dignitaries with the traditional Hindu greeting: "namaskar".
Some 300 militant Hindus were arrested for trying to block the Pope's motorcade as it travelled from the airport to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in the city centre.
The expected muted welcome in New Delhi, where Catholics are a very small minority, was marred by anti-papal demonstrations and the burning of an effigy of the Pontiff by Hindu militants who carried placards and chanted: "Pope, go back to Rome."
In the mid-afternoon, after paying a courtesy call on the Indian President, the Pope went to honour the man considered the father of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi.
At the Raj Ghat, funeral memorial of Gandhi the Pope took off his shoes, as is the Hindu custom, before laying a large wreath of yellow and white (papal colours) flowers before the memorial.
Then like Gandhi, the Pope appealed for mutual understanding, acceptance and collaboration between religious groups in the "pluralistic society of India and throughout the world."
Hindus make up 83 per cent of India's population. About three per cent of Indians are Christians and half of these, some 12.5 million, are Catholics.
In his meeting with the India's 120 Bishops later the same evening, the Pope showed his aware ness of the difficulties faced between the different religions.
He called on the Bishops to show respect for the various local religions without diluting "the essential truth of the Roman Catholic Church."
The Pope also called for "an inter-religious dialogue of courtesy, respect and trust that is free from all rivalry and polemic."
To some 20,000 Catholics, at his first Mass in India, Feb 1 at the Indira Gandhi Stadium, the Pope said he expected them to bear witness to their beliefs and to "bring the good news of salvation to all people in a way they can understand."
But the Pope cautioned that such adaptations had limits. Catholics, he said, should translate their faith into the expressions of all the world's people but must not betray its essential truths nor must they dilute their allegiance to the Pope in Rome.
On Sunday, Feb 2, the Pope celebrated Mass again at the Indira Gandhi stadium for more than 25,000 people. In his homily, he called for tolerance and understanding.
"Discrimination based on race, colour, creed, sex or ethnic origin must be rejected as totally incompatible to human dignity," he said.
Earlier, the Pope met the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetans, in the Vatican Embassy.
The Pope's last official function in New Delhi was a meeting with leaders of India's main religions.
"This inter-religious collaboration must also be concerned with the struggle to eliminate hunger, poverty, ignorance, persecution, discrimination, and every form of enslavement of the human spirit," the Pontiff said.
From Delhi the Pope continued his visit to the rest of India covering 20,000 km in nine days and visiting 13 cities.
After Delhi the Pope travelled to poverty stricken Calcutta. En route the Pontiff stopped in Ran-chi in Bihar State for three hours and celebrated Mass at the airport.
The high point of the Pope's Calcutta sojourn was his visit to Nirmal Hriday, the home for the dying and destitute run by Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity.
The CatholicNews, Sunday, February 16, 1986, page 1