Sunday, November 7, 1999 Published at 18:13 GMT
World: South Asia
Pope defends conversions in India
Farewell: Pope John Paul II leaves India
Pope John Paul II has left India after a two-day visit during which he called on followers to spread Christianity across South Asia.
He has moved on to Georgia - another country with only a tiny Catholic community.
Before he left India, the Pope insisted that the Catholic church had a right to continue missionary work in Asia, saying conversion should be recognised as a human right.
But the Pope made clear that evangelisation in Asia remained a priority for the Catholic church in the next century.
"Religious freedom constitutes the very heart of human rights. Its inviolability is such that individuals must be recognised as having the right to change their religion if their conscience so demands," he added.
On Saturday, the Pope insisted that it was the moral duty of Christians to spread the word of the Gospel throughout Asia.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, which orchestrated demonstrations in advance of the visit said the Pope's comments were "an abuse of hospitality".
Other religious leaders also made veiled criticisms.
"Religious people are more busy in increasing the number of their followers rather than paying attention to the challenges besetting religion," Jainist guru Acharya Mahaprajna told reporters.
"Everyone is free to propagate their religion but nobody should press anybody," Sikh holy man Bhai Manjit Singh said.
Catholic officials deny any efforts to force conversions.
The Press Trust of India said three activists of the Hindu hardline Shiv Sena party were arrested outside the inter-faith meeting, as they staged a protest against conversions. Three others had been arrested on Saturday.
Festival of lights
Earlier, he held a mass for an estimated 60,000 members of India's Christian minority in Delhi.
The mass at the Nehru stadium coincided with Diwali - the high point of the Hindu religious festival season, which celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil.
Addressing the congregation, the pontiff said more had to be done to help the millions of people suffering in Asia and Africa.
Ceremonies preceding Sunday's mass were laced with Hindu symbolism.
Delhi Archbishop Alan de Lastic welcomed the pontiff with words drawn from Sanskrit text, "Shanti, shanti, shanti", meaning "peace."
The Hindu nationalist-led government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sought to play down opposition to the papal visit.
During their meeting on Saturday, the prime minister reassured the Pope about the anti-Christian violence.
Mr Vajpayee said: "You know, Holy Father, that India is a land of religious freedom, but we have some intolerant fringes."