AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Pope John Paul II touched noses with Maori tribal dignitaries today on his first trip to New Zealand, a visit that featured some protests and a call for the Roman Catholic church's first Maori bishop.
The pontiff, in the fifth day of a two-week, 30,000-mile tour of Asia and the Pacific, received a warm and exuberant welcome from the Maoris, who make up less than 10 percent of the nation's 3.3 million people.
A smattering of protesters also were on hand as his Boeing 747 jet touched down after a flight from Fiji.
'The pope is anti-Christ,' said one huge white banner held by two well-dresed young men standing near Auckland airport along the pope's motorcade route. Nearby, four women held up another banner that said, 'The pope is pagan, not Christian.'
There were no such protests, however, at Auckland domain, the main city park where several hundred Maoris dressed in traditional costumes chanted and danced for the Polish-born pontiff. Looking on were another 400 tribespeople from Tahiti.
The Maoris watered down the fiercest part of their ceremony, in which a warrior traditionally sticks out his tongue at a visitor and throws a long spear at the visitor's feet to determine if he is friend or foe.
Three warriors, dressed in traditional flax skirts and with faces painted in black swirls, stuck out their tongues but never threw their spears.
'We know this man does not come as a foe,' said one participant. 'He is a friend.'
The highlight of the ceremony was the hongi -- nose-touching ceremony -- that expresses trust between the tribe and a visitor. John Paul touched noses with several Maori dignitaries, including a Maori priest.
'The hongi reminds us that the breath of life was given by the creator through the nose,' said Reitu Robson, a Maori high school teacher from Auckland. 'So when we put our nose to your nose it is life. It reminds us of the creator.'
The tribesmen gave John Paul a korowai -- a traditional Maori cape made from kiwi feathers -- and a large jade cross that hung on a chain around his neck.
During the ceremony, a Maori catholic addressed the pope, thanking him for coming and telling him they were awaiting his appointment of the first Maori bishop. Any such appointment could be a long time in coming as only nine Maoris are Roman Catholic priests.
Later, John Paul celebrated mass in another section of the park, with the altar set on the Hill of Bitter Memories where many tribal wars were fought. Some 50,000 people attended the mass, sitting in a natural crater at the foot of the altar. The crater was formed 60,000 years ago by the explosion of a volcano.
During the mass, John Paul thanked the Maoris for their welcome. It is the first time he has visited New Zealand, a land which is about 16 percent Roman Catholic.
'The strengths of the Maori culture are often the very values which modern society is in danger of losing,' John Paul said.
He cited as examples 'an acknowledgement of the spiritual dimension in every aspect of life, a profound reverence for nature and the environment, a sense of community, assuring every individual that he or she belongs, loyalty to family and a great willingness to share, an acceptance of death as part of life and a capacity to grieve and mourn the dead in a human way.'
The pope was expected to spend 48 hours in New Zealand before flying on to Australia and then the Seychelles Islands. He already has visited Bangladesh, Singapore and Fiji.