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Pope Ends India Trip, Staying on a Low Key to Avoid Offense

February 11, 1986|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

POONA, India — Pope John Paul II ended his 10-day pilgrimage to India on Monday on the same low key on which it began, avoiding offense to the country's predominant Hindus or to its divided Roman Catholics.

Here, in what has become a hotbed of Hindu fundamentalism, the weary pontiff addressed a group of seminary students and confined his remarks to a reminder of their allegiance to Rome and the importance of their spiritual duties.

He later addressed a youth rally in Bombay, 65 miles northwest of Poona, then boarded an Indian air force plane for the flight back to Rome.

The pontiff's tour of India, which began Feb. 1, took him to 14 cities.

Restrained Remarks

Although mindful of a movement within the Catholic Church in India to support a kind of home-grown liberation theology, particularly in the southern state of Kerala, John Paul toned down his usual condemnation of clergymen in politics.

Priests and nuns in Kerala have organized labor unions and led legal battles on behalf of poverty-stricken Hindus and Muslims. Priests in northeast India have taken a similar, almost revolutionary position on behalf of people there.

But unlike his sermons in Central and South America, where John Paul has severely exhorted the clergy to steer clear of politics, his remarks in Poona amounted to only a gentle chiding of the Indian priests and seminarians at the Papal Athenaeum Seminary.

No Secular Call

"The church's ministers are not called to play leadership roles in the secular spheres of society," he said. "India has many competent lay men and women to attend to these matters."

Although he did not directly address the Hindus or other non-Christian religious groups in his final three appearances here and in Bombay, he emphasized common spiritual and social aims and praised them for their virtues throughout his visit to India.

In exchange, all but the most extremist of fundamentalist Hindus have received him warmly, even in Poona, which is the stronghold of a militant Hindu movement.

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