"The Pope comes here with a message of love, not of conversion. If any one is afraid that the visit of the Pope will lead to conversion of Hindus, it shows the weakness of their moral caliber and faith," declared Jagatguru Sankaracharya Madhavanand Saraswati -- one of the five Hindu religious leaders -- denouncing the Hindu extremists' negative campaign against the upcoming visit by Pope John Paul II to India.
"There is nothing wrong in speaking about one's religion. Our own leaders (Hindu monks) roam the world freely, especially in Christian majority countries like America and Britain, spreading our faith. It is when you denounce another faith, you make a mistake," pointed out the Hindu leader at the press conference organized by the Forum of Religious Leaders for Social Harmony.
Mohinder Pal Singh, a noted Sikh scholar, urged all Indians "to give a rousing reception to the Pope and clear the misunderstanding already created about the visit of the Pope" due to the negative campaign. "When the Pope comes here, we should live up to our tradition of embracing our guests," added the Sikh scholar.
Besides a nationwide "awareness campaign" on the papal visit, Hindu extremists led by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Council of Hindus) launched on Tuesday a march to New Delhi from western Goa state demanding an apology from the Pope for "forced conversions and atrocities committed against Hindus." After winding through several states, the 15-day march will conclude in New Delhi on November 4, on the eve of the arrival of the Pope in New Delhi.
President-elect Wahid is supported by the National Mandate Party, led by Amien Rais, and by the Justice Party. Each of these parties has 40 seats, out of a total of 700 in the Assembly. The support of the Gokar, former President Habibie's Party, was decisive for the victory of moderate Muslim leader Wahid. The Assembly withdrew its support from Habibie because of his failure to implement reforms, and his inability to address the economic crisis and East Timor's secession. Wahid also enjoys the support of the Chinese ethnic minorities, the majority of whom are Christians, who were defended by him during the violence suffered in May, 1998.
Wahid's surprise victory, caused disconcert among Megawati's followers. Riots broke out in the capital, followed by police confrontations that ended in two deaths and 50 injured. Megawati Sukarnoputri's personality was considered less than ideal for leadership of the country. Muslims accuse her of being a native of Bali, an Island of Hindu majority, which is considered negative for a country that is primarily Muslim. The 35% of votes obtained by her party in the general elections reflected the widespread desire for a political change, but the numbers were insufficient to insure the presidency. Subsequently, in order to avoid additional violence by her followers, the Assembly came to a compromise solution and elected her Vice-President.
Most Catholics are confident that the new President will respect minorities and prepare the way for a true democracy in Indonesia. However, Jesuit Fr. Mudjisutrinso told the international news agency "Fides" that the violence was predictable, since the People's Assembly did not reflect the results of the June elections, when the people voted for Megawati. ZE99102201
The Vatican news agency Fides published a letter, sent by Bishop Giuseppe Fan Zhonliang of Shanghai, in which the prelate greets the Pope and offers him prayers on behalf of numerous Chinese Catholics.
The letter is also signed by several priests and faithful from Baoding, Lanzhou, Tianshui, Xining, Haimen, Yuzhou, Fuan, Wenzhou, where communities of Catholics loyal to Rome are active, as members of the "clandestine Church," as opposed to the state-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which eschews any ties to the Vatican.
"Holy Father," said the letter, "today we want to demonstrate our faithfulness to you. Today we profess our faith: 'I believe in the Church: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic."
Forbes applauded the US bishops for urging responsible voting in their guide "Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium," which will be distributed in US parishes early next year. "It is an example of the finest form of participation by religious institutions in our national life," he said. "I also share the fundamental values expressed so clearly in this profound treatment of the current climate we face together as Americans."
He added, "Any authentic understanding of human freedom recognizes that the first freedom, the freedom to be born and the inviolable dignity of every human life, must be the cornerstone of a truly free and responsible people. It recognizes as well, that our solidarity with, and obligation to, one another, (what the Bishops refer to as 'a call to family, community, and participation') is the framework for a rebirth of this nation, at the beginning of the Third Millennium."
The bishops' pamphlet called for Catholics to uphold the dignity of life from conception to natural death, consider the needs of the poor, and other moral issues when they vote next November in national, state, and local elections. The guides are non-partisan and do not include any reference to particular candidates.
"These issues are not Republican, Democrat, or independent issues. They are human issues and concern an authentic understanding of human rights and obligations," said Forbes. "As the Bishops stated: 'We are still falling short of the American pledge of liberty and justice for all, and our declaration to defend the inalienable rights of the human person -- life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'"