Saturday, November 6, 1999 Published at 19:06 GMT
World: South Asia
Pope urges spread of Catholicism
Hindu protesters object to the Pope's visit and to Catholic missionaries
Pope John Paul II has called on Asian governments to guarantee religious freedom, while urging his bishops to spread the Christian message across the continent.
Earlier in the day, the pontiff met India's President KR Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who assured him of their commitment to religious tolerance and upholding the country's secular constitution.
John Paul II made it clear the church would renounce none of its principles, as he denounced attempts to introduce abortion and population control programmes in Asia as a "culture of death".
He also denounced violence in the name of religion as a "travesty of true belief".
About 1,500 incidents of violence against Christians have been reported in the past two years, including the gruesome murder of an Australian missionary and his two young sons in January.
The Pope also sent a message of support to the Catholics persecuted in mainland China.
John Paul urged them never to "allow hardship and sorrow to diminish your devotion to Christ".
No bishop from mainland China was allowed to travel to Delhi, but two came from Hong Kong, the pope's original choice for the bishops' meeting.
The 79-year-old pontiff, clearly fatigued, sat slumped in a red velvet chair during most of the 90-minute meeting.
While acknowledging that Christ is often perceived as "foreign" in Asia, he said: "The peoples of Asia need Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Asia is thirsting for the living water that Jesus alone can give."
Protests mark visit
His encouragement for evangelism came at a time when supporters of fundamentalist Hindu groups have protested against what they say are forcible conversions.
The church denies using unethical inducements to win converts.
Radical Hindus demanded an end to missionary activity and an apology for the alleged massacre of Hindus 400 years ago.
There was no hint of apology in the Pope's 29-page speech.
Missionaries have operated unhindered in India for hundreds of years, but are restricted or barred in China, Vietnam, Burma, Laos and some Islamic countries.
Policemen stood guard at the Sacred Heart cathedral and black-clad commandos searched for explosives at the Nehru stadium where the Pope will celebrate mass on Sunday.
Minutes before the Pope arrived to pay his respects at independence leader Mahatma Gandhi's memorial, police arrested three activists.
The activists briefly waved black flags and chanted "Stop conversions!" before being bundled into a van and driven away.