Pakistan: Christians prepare for 'silent Christmas'

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha

Catholics in northern Pakistan are preparing for quiet, scaled-back Christmas celebrations  this year, as militant attacks continue to terrorize the country.

"Most of the scheduled programs are canceled due to this situation," said Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore. The celebrations will be more of a "family" affair with little "pomp and display outside," he added.

"This will be a silent Christmas. We shall discover the meaning of Christmas in a quiet way and hope for the return of harmony and peace."

The archbishop spoke to UCA News on 7 December, before two bomb blasts that evening ripped through a busy market in the center of Lahore, the Punjab province capital, killing at least 36 people.

A wave of deadly bombings has rocked the country since the army launched an operation in mid-October against Taliban militants in neighboring North West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan.

A blast outside a district courthouse in that province's capital, Peshawar, also on 7 December, killed 11 people and injured 44 others.

"I was in a stationery shop several kilometers from the site when I heard a big explosion. Later, I saw a few fire engines speeding through the traffic," a catechist told UCA News.

The catechist, who did not wish to be named, said two Catholic churches in Peshawar, the city worst hit by militant attacks in Pakistan, have canceled Christmas celebrations. "Masses will be conducted but not the traditional fairs. We are praying everyday for the improvement of the situation and peace in the country," he said.

The annual outdoor Christmas fair at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Faisalabad, Punjab, also has been called off.

"The annual diocesan choir event formerly attended by thousands in the open cathedral compound will now be limited only to the cathedral building," said Father Khalid Rashid Asi, vicar general of Faisalabad diocese. "We are very cautious and all programs are being organized ... on a low-scale."

The Peshawar and Lahore blasts came less than a week after an explosion at a mosque in Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad, on 4 December. Forty people including high-ranking army officers died, while 83 others were injured in that incident. Rawalpindi is the
headquarters of the Pakistani army.

Meanwhile, prominent Muslim clerics have issued a fatwa (religious edict) declaring suicide attacks and bomb blasts "un-Islamic."

Source: UCA News

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