The Holy Father arrived in New Delhi at 8 PM, after nightfall, and there was no official greeting party from the Indian government. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls explained that the quiet arrival had been planned, since the Pope would be raveling "not to India itself but to the whole Asian continent." The Pope will be formally welcomed by India's political leaders on November 6, the first full day of his stay in New Delhi.
However, the Pope was greeted at the airport by leaders of India's episcopal conference, headed by Archbishop Alan Basil de Lastic of Delhi. Also on hand were Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta, representing the country's Latin- rite bishops; Archbishop Mar Baselios of Trivandrum, representing the Syro- Malankar rite; and Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly, representing the Syro-Malabar rite. Several other prelates who had participated in the Asian Synod joined in the welcoming committee, including Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Seoul, Korea; Cardinal Jozef Tomko of the Congregation for Evangelization; and Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Jakarta, Indonesia. The relator general for the Asian Synod, Cardinal Paul Shan Kou-Shi of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, also was on hand, as was the Synod's secretary general, the Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, India.
As the Pope's plane headed toward New Delhi, Navarro-Valls had downplayed the security risks that might arise after a series of demonstrations organized by Hindu fundamentalists who oppose the papal visit. Navarro-Valls told reporters that the Holy See was not frightened by the Hindu demonstrations that have been occurring regularly since October 20, and said that the participants represented a "minor" group, which "does not reflect a large popular movement." He also pointed out that-- while some Hindu leaders denounce Christianity-- the number of Hindu parents enrolling their children in Catholic schools continues to rise.
Cardinal Jan Schotte had told journalists that the organizers of the papal visit had been in contact with the nuncio in New Delhi to ask for news about a November 4 demonstration outside the nuncio's residence. The latest news from India "did not give cause for any alarm," Cardinal Schotte said, explaining that the demonstration was a relatively small one, and the number of Hindu fundamentalists participating in recent events had been falling.
However, Vatican officials indicated that while they were not worried about the Pope's security, they were taking the Hindu fundamentalists quite seriously for other reasons. Navarro-Valls pointed out that several prominent Hindu groups were adamantly opposed to a visit from the Pontiff, on the pretext that Christians were engaged in illicit conversion of Hindus. That attitude, the Vatican spokesman said, shows "a lack of respect for the fundamental right of every human person to choose his own religion according to his own conscience."
Wadia Abu Nassar said the Vatican may cancel plans to visit the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. Christians and Muslims in Nazareth have battled over a plot of land next to the church which both sides claim as their own. Christians want to use the land to build a plaza to accommodate expected hordes of pilgrims next year, but Muslims claimed the land belonged to them and wanted to build a massive mosque on the location.
Israel's government sided with the Muslims in October and gave permission for a scaled-back version of the mosque. Christian leaders were angered by the decision and criticized Israel's handling of the dispute.
Abu Nassar told Israel radio that the Nazareth situation is causing delays in planning for the historic papal visit next year. "The continuation of the tension in Nazareth makes the visit difficult," he said. Christian leaders announced earlier this week that churches throughout the Holy Land will close for two days later this month in protest at the decision.
Archbishop Herranz, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, said that the abuse of the Eucharist seems to be becoming more and more common among the world's Catholics. As evidence, he pointed to the sharp decline in the practice of sacramental Confession.
The archbishop pointed out that anyone who is guilty of a grave sin "must be purified of that sin through the Sacrament of Reconciliation" before approaching the Eucharist. To receive the Eucharist without having obtained absolution, he said, would constitute a sacrilege and thus would compound the original sin.
El Nacional newspaper said that Marisela Padron Quero, a Venezuelan citizen and director of UNFPA's operations in Latin American and the Caribbean, warned the Constituent Assembly against putting a provision in the new constitution that states human life is "inviolable from the moment of conception." She said it would violate international conventions which Venezuela had signed, but a UN source said," Not a single international convention mandates a woman's right to an abortion."
Earlier this year, new president Hugo Chavez called for the controversial Constituent Assembly which would draft the new constitution. When a drafting committee chaired by Venezuela's First Lady called for stronger protection for the unborn than the last constitution, Padron issued her statement and the provision was dropped from consideration.
Catholic leaders reacted strongly to the action with Archbishop Ignacio Velasco of Caracas ordering homilies against abortion in every church in the country last week. He also said the Church may work actively to oppose the new constitution. Chavez, who calls himself radically pro-life, has not said whether he supports the provision or not.