VATICAN CITY, JUNE 3, 2003 ( John Paul II says the Gospel and the living Tradition offer the Catholic Church in India the answer to the threats of fundamentalism and the temptations of secularism.

The Pope addressed the challenges facing Catholics in India when he met today with 28 bishops of the Western region, encompassing Gujarat, Bombay, Goa and Kerala. They were ending their five-yearly visit "ad limina" to Rome.

The Indian Catholic community is dynamic, as reflected in "the impressive numbers of religious and diocesan vocations in your provinces, and the high percentage of faithful who attend Sunday Mass," the Holy Father said.

However, the community faces serious challenges, such as the "negative influences of the mass media, secularism, materialism and consumerism, compounded by the false promises of a few fundamentalist groups, which have lured some Catholics into giving up their faith," he observed.

"Sadly, even some members of the clergy have, at times, been attracted by empty promises of money, comfort and power," he added.

The Pope suggested to the bishops that they base their pastoral program on "the four Christian pillars: holiness, prayer, the sacraments and the word of God."

"Always keeping in mind that it is not, therefore, a matter of inventing a new program," he said. "The program already exists: It is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition. It is the same as ever." With this foundation, Catholics in India will be able to respond to four "special problems created by modern society."

In the first place, John Paul II mentioned "the movement towards a culture of death, as seen for example in the menacing threats directed towards unborn children, especially unborn girls."

"I encourage you to remain vigilant in your efforts to preach fearlessly the consistent teaching of the Church regarding the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being," the Pope said.

"Concerted efforts to curb the culture of death necessitate the involvement of the entire Catholic community," he added. "Accordingly, any strategy in this regard must include individuals, families, movements and associations committed to building a society in which the dignity of each person is recognized and protected and the lives of all are defended and enhanced."

Second, the Pope said: "Globalization has also challenged traditional customs and ethics" as reflected "in attempts to impose upon Asian society morally unacceptable types of family planning and reproductive health measures."

"An incorrect understanding of the moral law has led many people to justify immoral sexual activity under the guise of freedom, which in turn has resulted in a commonplace acceptance of the contraceptive mentality," he said.

"The consequences of such irresponsible activity not only threaten the institution of the family but also contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS, which is reaching epidemic proportions in parts of your country," the Holy Father continued.

"The response of the Church in India must be to continue to promote the sanctity of married life, and the innate language that expresses the total self-giving of husband and wife," he said.

Third, he said that "efforts which respect the dignity and rights of women must be made to guarantee that at all levels of Indian society a new feminism is promoted."

"This will reject the temptation of male domination in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation," he insisted.

Fourth, the Holy Father said that Indian Catholics must face "discrimination and even violence because of their religious convictions or tribal affiliations. … [These] difficulties are exacerbated by the increased activity of a few Hindu fundamentalist groups which are creating suspicion of the Church and other religions."

"Unfortunately, in some regions the state authorities have yielded to the pressures of these extremists and have passed unjust anti-conversion laws, prohibiting free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom, or withdrawing state support for those in scheduled castes who have chosen to convert to Christianity," he lamented.

"In spite of the grave difficulties and suffering this has caused, the Church in India must never relinquish her fundamental task of evangelization," the Pope concluded.

With this conviction, John Paul II invited the bishops and Catholics in general to "continue to engage local leaders of other religious beliefs in an interreligious dialogue which ensures greater mutual understanding and cooperation," and to foster "dialogue with local and national authorities to ensure that India continues to promote and protect the basic human rights of all its citizens."