Like elsewhere in the country, Christmas was celebrated with religious fervour across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) on Tuesday.
Hundreds of resident Christians gathered at Swat Church to offer prayers for peace and prosperity of the country. Enthusiastic girls and boys sang carols in a chorus. The grand function was organised after almost five years.
“It’s a special occasion as people are rejoicing in the company of their family and friends after so long,” said Hina Patrus, a social activist. Maryam, a Christian woman who works in the provincial health department, said she was happy to see people celebrating with their loved ones.
Meanwhile, scores of people also came in from other parts of the province to participate in the function. “Having to celebrate by the scenic valley doubles the joy of Christmas,” said Usha Roy, who had come from Mardan with her family.
Father Samuel Gil, the church in-charge, conducted all proceedings at the event. While talking to The Express Tribune, he said, “the Muslim community in Swat is very warm and welcoming and we all live in harmony. On this occasion, we send out a message of peace and pray for eternal peace in this serene valley.”
The function was organised by the district administration in collaboration with Pakistan Army.
Prayers and presents in Peshawar
Owing to the volatile security situation in the city, most of the celebration was limited to the churches throughout Peshawar. “This year we did not cut the Christmas cake to honour the slain Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour, who rendered great services for our community,” said St. Micheal’s Catholic Church General Secretary Nadeem James.
He added that that although the two main churches are situation in the red zone, the Christians were allowed to move freely to their place of worship.
Garbed as Santa Claus, some people gave away goodies to children while others sang carols with visible cheer. The church was decorated with fairy lights and a large Christmas tree, steeped with ornamentation, stood in the centre of the hall.
Strict security measures were taken by installing steel gates manned by armed security personnel. During his sermon, the bishop of the churches stressed on maintaining interfaith harmony.
Showering blessings in Shabqadar
Around 250 Christian families paid their respects at a church in Landi Kotal at Khyber Agency. According to Pastor Imran in Mohmand agency, around 50 families attended church service in Ekka Ghund subdivision in the agency’s Ghallanai Headquarters.
Officials of law-enforcement agencies and their families participated in a ceremony where they gave cakes and gifts to children.
An officer of the Mohmand Agency told The Express Tribune that people are giving facilities to the Christian community in the area. To help the religious minority on the occasion, the people will cover the monthly expenditure of the churches.
In Bajaur Agency too, the Christians in Frontier Constabulary celebrated with religious harmony.
In all these places, the Christian community of both the protestant and catholic sects prayed for the welfare and prosperity of the country and thanked the tribal people for the respect and support.
Joylessness in Jamrud
Meanwhile in Jamrud, Khyber Agency, the day was not marked with much enthusiasm.
At a ceremony, James Micheal, leader of the Christian community, complained that the only church in Jamrud has been ignored by the local political administration. Established in 1827, the church was renovated back in 1965 and has weathered since, he said.
Michael said the Christian community in Jamrud lacks basic facilities and the government departments remain mum over their issues. He said the community does not even have a separate graveyard.
Living in a small shelter in Jamrud Bazaar, James said his forefather had been settled in the area since 2010. “We have no complaint while exercising our religious rights in the area and have no problems from any religious group, but we need some facilities.”
Harmony in Hazara
Moreover, the Christian community in the Hazara Division celebrated amid heightened security. Although they seemed satisfied with the security arrangements, a sense of insecurity was felt mainly due to a surge of targeted terrorist attacks.
During the services, the local Christians belonging to the Catholic, Evangelical and Protestant sects, expressed love and loyalty to Pakistan and offered special prayers for prosperity and peace in the country with interfaith harmony and brotherhood.
The Christmas services were held at Saint Lukes Church Abbottabad, Catholic Church Abbottabad, United Presbyterian Church, Saint John Church Haripur, Church of Pakistan Ghazi, Catholic Church and Evangelical Church in Ghazi Tehsil at Haripur.
With additional input by our correspondents in Jamrud and Hazara
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2012.