Fears for the Pope on eve of Sri Lanka visit

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The Independent Online
A tired-looking Pope John Paul II put a 19th-century Australian nun on the road to sainthood yesterday, but also reaffirmed his opposition to women priests and "the evils of abortion".

The remarks came during a hectic itinerary in Sydney, during which he beatified Mother Mary MacKillop at an outdoor Mass attended by 220,000 people, and faced protests from women's groups over his stand against women priests.

The Pope accused critics of "a mistaken anthropology" in failing to understand the "true role" of women which, he said, was to be found in motherhood. "That role is in no way diminished but is, in fact, enhanced by being related in a special way to motherhood - the source of new life - both physical and spiritual."

At most engagements, the Pope walked slowly with a cane and seemed tired when standing. He was lifted on to the stage by a forklift truck, unable to walk up the 30 or so steps.

Today he flies into a gathering storm of Buddhist protest when he lands in Sri Lanka. Monks there want him to apologise publicly for "incorrect, malicious and derogatory" remarks about Buddhism.

More than 15,000 extra security police will protect the Pope, 74, during his stop-over, the last in an exhausting 11-day tour of Asia which has left him worn and haggard-looking.

Despite threats by Buddhist monks to boycott his visit and stage demonstrations, the archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjit, said yesterday that the Pope will not retract his comments. "If a person insults you, you can demand an apology, but if a person expresses his views, it isn't necessary," the Sri Lankan archbishop said.

The Pope, however, is expected to explain his views on Buddhism, practised by 70 per cent of Sri Lanka's 18 million people. The fuss was sparked by the Pope's new book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, in which he cautions Catholics against Buddhism's "negative" atheism. What most offends Sri Lankan Buddhists is the passage: "The fullness of such a detachment [for Buddhists] is not the union with God, but what is called nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world."

This is nonsense, according to Gallage Punyawardena, secretary of the Federation of Buddhist Organisations, who said the Pope had "mischievously, if not maliciously" misinterpreted the teachings of Buddha.

Tension is running high between the island's Buddhists and a million Christians. Prominent monks yesterday petitioned the Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunge, a Buddhist, to demand an apology. Top clergy are boycotting ceremonies that the Pope will attend.

Sri Lanka has become the land of the suicide-bomber, and there are fears for the Pope's safety. The nightmare faced by security guards is a Mass tomorrow along Colombo's seaside esplanade; it will be swarming with 250,000 people.