The Italian media stories have come in response to the discovery of a 600- page dossier in the files of the Czech secret service. That dossier was shared with Italian security officials, who in turn conveyed the documents to the Italian parliament; copies then became available to reporters. Although it is not clear how the contents of the dossier became public, Italian political leaders have conceded that the news reports appear to be an accurate reflection of the contents of the dossier.
One 47-page section of the dossier concerns the efforts of Soviet-bloc agents to undermine the Catholic Church-- both in Czechoslovakia and in Rome. The documents show that the Soviet secret service, the KGB, had masterminded a plan (code-named "Pagoda") to use disinformation and provocation in order to discredit the Church. The "Pagoda" plan allowed for the "physical elimination, if necessary" of Pope John Paul.
Since the documents are undated, it is difficult to discern whether the Pagoda plan was a factor in the 1981 effort by Mehmet Ali Agca to assassinate the Holy Father.
Some of the claims put forward in the Czech dossier have already been denied by key characters. For instance, the dossier reports that listening devices were placed in the offices of the Vatican's longtime Secretary of State, the late Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, by the wife of the cardinal's nephew. But the family of Cardinal Casaroli reports that the individual named in the dossier, Marco Torretta, is not related to the cardinal; Torretta's wife also denies any involvement with the Soviet secret service. Similarly, Archbishop John Bukovski, who is now the papal nuncio in Russia, has emphatically denied the report that he was working with the Soviet secret service while he served in the Vatican Secretariat of State from 1972 to 1990.
The Vatican has not issued any official comment on the Czech dossier or the Pagoda plan. While the accuracy of the information contained in the dossier cannot be proved, however, the latest revelations furnish new evidence of how seriously the Soviet regime viewed the Catholic Church. Earlier revelations, based on another dossier made public in October, showed that the top priority for KGB officials in Rome was to recruit secret agents within the Vatican.
But the Pope's second visit to India will also be of significant importance for the life of Christians in the Indian subcontinent, with a population of one billion inhabitants. This is the third papal trip to India; the first was Pope Paul VI's in 1964.
When John Paul II arrives in New Delhi tomorrow, he will have been preceded by a protest march organized by the fundamentalist World Hindu Council. The march, which covered 1,600 kilometers, began on October 20. The marchers are protesting Christian evangelization, which -- they believe, is causing numerous conversions in the country.
Tension Relaxed During the hours immediately preceding the Pontiff's arrival, Archbishop Alan Basil de Lastic of New Delhi, president of the Episcopal Conference, emphasized that the atmosphere is positive and in keeping with Indian traditional hospitality. In fact, he believes that the peaceful coexistence between Hindus and Christians is what is true in India, quite apart from extreme cases that have sporadically manifested themselves.
According to the Archbishop of New Delhi, the recent protests only affect small groups and, given the fact that India is a democratic country, they have freedom of speech. Fr. Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman of the Episcopal Conference, said that the Catholic community feels no rancor toward anyone: "Love and forgiveness are part of the Catholic faith," he said.
Vocations Potential This positive attitude of the Catholic Church, in spite of attacks, also explains the amazing spiritual life of these Christian communities. Numerically, their presence seems insignificant. In fact, Catholics are less that 2% -- some 20 million out of a total population of one billion. However, today India is the Catholic Church's principal seedbed of vocations. There are 10,000 minor seminarians and 10,000 major seminarians in India. Far behind are the Philippines and Poland, with 7,000 major seminarians, and Italy with 6,299.
Open Persecution Observers of the Indian scene stress that this Christian awakening is taking place precisely in an environment of persecution. Over the last two years, there have been a number of priests and religious killed. In the state of Orissa, for example, which is 1,200 kilometers from New Delhi, in recent months Hindu fundamentalists have killed two missionaries and wounded their collaborators. A nun was tortured and raped on September 23 in the city of Chiapra. Her torturers said: "Christians will be taught a lesson after the elections to the federal Parliament."
The important winner of the parliamentary elections, which ended on October 5, was the nationalist coalition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress Party, led by Sonia Gandhi, suffered a harsh defeat. Given that the BJP needs the support of parties representing minorities in order to govern, the Christians believe the government will moderate the aggressive tone of some of its leaders during the electoral campaign.
Conclusion of Synod for Asia John Paul II is convinced that the Third Millennium must result in Asia's evangelization, the most populous continent of the world, but the one where -- in many countries, Christ is unknown, although this is not the case in the Philippines and Vietnam. It is no accident that the Pontiff wished to close the Asian Synod in a country that has become the seedbed of conversions to Catholicism and of vocations to the religious and priestly life.
Full Agenda During his brief but intense visit to New Delhi, John Paul II will meet with Asian Bishops on the occasion of the signing of the synodal document. The culminating moment will be on November 6, with the closing Mass of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia. On November 8, the Holy Father will recite the Angelus in the stadium dedicated to deceased Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi, and he will meet with representatives of other religions and Christian denominations.
In addition to visiting with India's political authorities, the Pope will also pray at the funerary monument erected in memory of Mahatma Gandhi. ZE99110405
The statement was expressed during an interview with L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, in which Gorbachev acknowledged his admiration for La Pira, one of the visionaries of the post-war Italian "Christian Democrat" Party. For many years, La Pira was mayor of Florence, a city in which his process of beatification is underway.
Gorbachev also mentioned La Pira's contribution to the dialogue and peace between East and West during the height of the Cold War. "Each one of his writings and speeches confirmed his faith in Christ. All this merits the greatest respect and obliges anyone who is familiar with him to ask himself the reasons for such profound faith, for such unbreakable faith. A faith that generates hope," the former Soviet President said, during his interview with "the Pope's newspaper."
Gorbachev recognized that "Christian faith compelled La Pira to enter politics." However, this did not impede "a fraternal and open dialogue with non-believers and believers of other religions." He added, "I believe that the union of religious currents was a central fact, for our Continent to come to know a period of peace and understanding."
"I agree with La Pira's conviction," Gorbachev added, "that there cannot be politics without culture and morality. He also adds to this the Christian faith, prayer -- which he really regarded as a political fact."
The former Soviet leader recalled La Pira's trips to Moscow during the 60s and his meeting with Soviet President Nikita Kruschev. Gorbachev believes that with these gestures of dialogue, La Pira anticipated "a new way of carrying out politics," pointing out "clear objectives for international politics: the definitive option for peace which must be reached with effective and adequate instruments, such as dialogue, negotiation, and agreement." He liked to repeat that it is necessary "'to knock down the walls and build bridges.' "
"I personally identify with this political strategy, which he carried forward with courage and in spite of incomprehension," Gorbachev admitted. ZE99110310
The Israeli government has sided with Muslims in Nazareth in an ongoing dispute over land in Nazareth which Christians wanted to use to accommodate expected hordes of pilgrims next year. Muslims had claimed that the land belonged to the local Islamic trust and wanted to build a huge mosque on the site.
"We trust that we do not need to take any further steps in the near future," the Christian leaders said in a statement referring to the possibility that churches could be closed at Christmas, impacting an expected surge of visitors.
The statement said "all Sanctuaries of the Holy Land will
be closed on 22 and 23 November 1999" to express
disapproval of the mosque plan. It was signed by the
patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian
Churches and by the Franciscan "Custos of the Holy Land,"
who is responsible for key sites.