Pope launches a crusade in Asia

POPE JOHN PAUL, ignoring Hindu appeals to halt the Roman Catholic Church's drive for converts in Asia, told the leaders of other religions yesterday that converting to another religion had to be recognised as a right.

The Pope, in India to launch a millennial blueprint for the church in Asia, stressed greater dialogue between the world's faiths to promote peace. But he returned to the central theme of his visit: that evangelisation had to be a priority in Asia at the start of the third Christian millennium.

"No state, no group has the right to control either directly or indirectly a person's religious convictions," he told religious leaders, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jainists, Zoroastrians, Jews and Bahais. "Religious freedom constitutes the very heart of human rights. Its inviolability is such that individuals must be recognised as having the right even to change their religion if their conscience so demands."

The 79-year-old Pontiff was speaking as millions of Hindus celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. The festival is the high point in their religious calendar, marking the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil.

The Hindu holy man Shankaracharya Madhavanananda Saraswati, wearing saffron clothes, held up the Pope's hand as the two men met and a rabbi draped the Pope's shoulders in a prayer shawl. "Do accept the openness of our religion and our love," the Shankaracharya said in his speech. "We also desire your co-operation in making our holy culture a culture of the world."

But Hindu activists have strongly opposed the Pope's visit to Delhi, accusing missionaries of coercing poorer Indians into converting to Catholicism. They demanded that the Pope order a moratorium on conversions, a call that has gone unheeded.

The Pontiff travelled to India to conclude an Asian synod of bishops begun in Rome last year and to present a document called Ecclesia in Asia (The Church in Asia), which calls for the spreading of the Gospel in the continent which has the fewest Catholics.

t The death toll in the cyclone that ravaged eastern India last month has climbed above 3,400, with the majority of victims in the Jagatsinghpur district, rescue workers said yesterday.

Meanwhile, diarrhoea is plaguing thousands of people who drank tainted water. The Orissa state government said there were as yet no epidemics of water-borne diseases, such as gastroenteritis and cholera, but more doctors had been flown into the worst-hit areas.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us