VATICAN CITY, MAY 23, 2003 ( John Paul II lamented the obstacles to conversion to Christianity imposed by local authorities in India.

"It is most disconcerting that some who wish to become Christians are required to receive the permission of local authorities, while others have lost their right to social assistance and family support," the Pope said.

"Still others have been ostracized or driven out of their villages," he added. "Unfortunately, certain fundamentalist movements are creating confusion among some Catholics and even directly challenging any attempt at evangelization."

The Pontiff expressed this criticism today when he received the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Calcutta, Guwahati, Impahl and Shillong, who just completed their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.

John Paul II told the Indian bishops that they should "not be discouraged by these injustices but rather continue to engage society in such a way that these alarming trends can be reversed."

He added, however, that "obstacles to conversion are not always external but may occur within your own communities."

"This can happen when those of other religions see disagreement, scandal and disunity within our Catholic institutions," he said. "For this reason it is important that priests, religious and lay people all work together and especially cooperate with their bishop, who is the sign and source of unity."

The Pontiff added that "is the bishop's responsibility to support those involved in the vital task of evangelization by ensuring that they never lose the missionary zeal which is central to our lives in Christ."

He concluded: "We must always be mindful of the fact that the Church evangelizes in obedience to Christ's command, in the knowledge that every person has the right to hear the Good News of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ."