1999-11-08 00:00:00

Songs and dances reflecting India´s rich cultural heritage provided a backdrop to the Mass which Pope John Paul II celebrated with 60,000 people on the third day of his visit to India.

Before the Mass a group of 60 young women danced to a Sadri-tribal-language song as they led 180 bishops, about 800 priests and altar servers to the specially designed dais at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium Nov. 7.

The dancers, dressed in cream-colored saris with red borders and red blouses, and wearing white beads around their necks, swayed their hands to the rhythm of drums and singing of the choir.

Cheers from the crowd greeted the pope when he arrived at 9 a.m., while the choir sang the papal anthem.

The pope circled the stadium in the "popemobile" for about 15 minutes, occasionally raising his hand and waving to the crowd.

Forty young women performing a semi-classical dance then led cardinals of the papal delegation, archbishops and more altar servers to the dais.

The dancers, who wore rose, crimson and blue saris with silver-gray blouses, continued to perform as the pope made his way up to the altar using a special elevator behind the dais.

Once seated the pope held a candle from which five women lighted their candles and then lit a five-wicked Indian brass lamp in front of the altar.

The Scripture readings were in Hindi and English. Three nuns offered garlands and flowers to honor the Book of Scriptures and the lectern before a deacon read the Gospel.

The pope then began his 20-minute homily by referring to Diwali (the festival of lights), declaring that "we too exult in the light and bear witness to the one who is the true light that enlightens every man."

He said that the next millennium will "witness a great harvest of faith in this vast continent." He described the apostolic exhortation "Church in Asia" (Ecclesia in Asia) as "a guide for their spiritual and pastoral life."

The pope, who was visibly tired, held the text of his talk with shaking hands, and read slowly.

Men and women in their national dress then read the prayers of the faithful in seven Asian languages -- Chinese, Filipino, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese.

During the offertory which followed, six Bharatanatyam classical Indian dancers led 10 people from different parts of Asia for the offering of gifts.

During the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, seven white-clad young nuns performed "arati," a sign of veneration with light, camphor, flowers and incense, to the accompaniment of a Tamil spiritual song.

After the concluding prayer, the pope led the Angelus and a prayer to Mary. Then he greeted the people in Hindi: "Bharat ko ashirbad, Shanti" (blessings to India, peace).

Finally, he handed over the text of "Ecclesia in Asia" to 32 representatives of local Asian Churches. The representatives showed the documents to the congregation, who signaled acceptance of the post-synodal exhortation with a sung acclamation and applause.

The pope concluded the ceremony by blessing the congregation. A planned second circuit of the stadium in the popemobile was canceled.


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