NEW DELHI, Dec. 21, 00 ( - More than 10,000 people including Indian president K. R. Narayanan and several prominent national leaders attended on Wednesday in New Delhi the public celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ.

While leaders of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Bahai faiths read passages from their scriptures and chanted hymns on the occasion to celebrate the anniversary, several dance and music programs based on the Bible entertained the audience. Earlier, Indian President Narayanan switched on a Christmas tree marking the yearlong celebration of the Year of Christ in the Indian capital, sponsored by the government of Delhi state.

Jesus preached love and compassion. He advised forgiveness and taught us to show the other cheek if you are struck," said Sheila Dixit, chief minister of Delhi and chairman of the Committee for celebrating the Year of Christ in the Indian capital, welcoming the audience with Indian president seated in the front row.

"Jesus is one of the greatest teachers and preachers of all times. With his death on the cross, he showed his love for all of us," declared Dixit, a Hindu, heading the Congress party-led state government in Delhi.

Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi said that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had "promised" Christians to celebrate the year 2000 as the Year of Christ, but due to pressure from Hindu radicals in his pro-Hindu BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) later "went back" on the promise. Had the federal government kept up the promise, Archbishop Concessao said, "Christians would have been much more happy."

The BJP-led coalition government had granted one billion rupees (US$22 million) for the tercentenary celebrations of the founding of Sikhism apart from sponsoring the celebration of 2,500 years of Buddhism and the major centenary of Jainism recently.

After the federal government backpedaled on the Year of Christ, Christian groups appealed to state governments to initiate their own celebrations. Apart from the Delhi government-- which has decided to set up a park "to publicize the messages of Jesus" with a grant of 10 million rupees (US$225,000) for observing the Year of Christ--Madhya Pradesh state, also ruled by the Congress party, has committed to a state-sponsored celebration in the central Indian state.

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