AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, July 30 (AP)--After absorbing the absence of their leading figure, Billy Graham, evangelical Protestants who had gathered Sunday at their largest world conference ever began exploring the complexity of spreading the Christian message to all peoples.

Graham, 81, who is recovering from surgery in Rochester, Minn., was too ill to deliver a scheduled greeting by satellite TV Saturday.

Sunday night the 10,000 participants, whose forebears were notably hostile to Roman Catholicism, welcomed the primate of the Netherlands, Cardinal Adrianus Simonis.

"Your presence as representatives of the worldwide evangelical movement is a mighty and powerful witness to the saving presence of our only Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," he said.

The cardinal also read a June 16 letter from Pope John Paul II to Graham that declared, "In Jesus Christ there is hope because of the Father's love for each and for all."

President A. H. C. van Eijk of the Council of Churches of the Netherlands, which includes more liberal Protestants, also brought friendly greetings.

In a message prepared weeks ago and distributed Saturday night, Graham said he intended his meeting to "re-establish the priority of evangelism in our lives and in our churches," and to equip soul-winners with effective tactics.

Graham noted that due to technology "for the first time in human history it truly is possible for us to reach the whole world for Christ."

But the Rev. Billy Jang Hwan Kim, a Baptist pastor from South Korea, told the throng that only a third of the world's people are Christians and "half of the world has yet to hear about the Savior's death on the cross."

By contrast, Kim said, the Coca-Cola company's commercial determination and strategy for reaching all of humanity "puts Christians to shame."

The Rev. Ravi Zacharias, a native of India now based in Atlanta, Ga., who has evangelized college campuses in 60 nations, said 21st-century preachers face this question:

"How do you reach a generation that listens with its eyes and thinks with its feelings?"

He said the emerging post-modern culture rejects absolute truth, whether from religion or science, posing a severe challenge to Christian claims. The answer, he said, will be Christians' authentic lives and sense of community.

Asked about missionary work among other religions, Zacharias told reporters it's an illusion to think that Hindus or Muslims are not evangelizing among Christians, or that Christianity is the only faith holding to "points of exclusivity."

Three-fourths of those Graham's organization selected to attend Amsterdam 2000 come from non-Western countries.

The riot of colorful robes, tunics and turbans in the plenary hall reflected a radical shift in Christian geopolitics that shapes the strategy of John Paul as well as Graham and his followers. So did the rousing reception for a lilting, prancing African children's choir from Uganda.

In 1966, when Graham hosted his first world conference, a majority of the world's Christians still lived in Europe and North America, while today only 37% do, reports the World Evangelization Research Center of Richmond, Va.

The research center's synopsis for regions, listed in order of Christian population:

Europe: Christianity's long-term decline as a percentage of the population has lately given way to growth, thanks to expansion in the post-communist East. But in Western Europe, many cities are turning post-Christian.

Latin America: Christians' slow relative decline through the 20th century is offset by a tenfold increase in the increasingly respected Protestant sector of the population, mostly among Pentecostals and Charismatics.

Africa: Christianity now claims nearly half the population, double its proportion in 1950, but the most marked growth is in indigenous churches that have nothing to do with traditional Protestantism and Catholicism. Islam is growing, too, at a much slower rate.

Asia: Since 1950, Christians have moved from 3.6% to 8.3% of those living in the world's most populous continent, while Islam has increased its share from 17.6% to 23%.

North America: Christians dominate, with 85% of the population, but there's been slow decline over a century.

Oceania: The Christian majority has also slipped here, to 83%.

The conference concludes Aug. 6 with a mass communion service, expected issuance of evangelical strategy statements and a hoped-for live TV farewell from Graham.

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