The Express Tribune takes a look at how the Christian community in Pakistan celebrates Easter.
Easter for Sindhi Christians
A day before Easter, Sumaira Kafue set off for her hometown to celebrate the festive occasion with her family. But unlike hundreds of Christians who travel to their hometowns in Punjab, Sumaira instead heads off for rural Sindh.
In Mirpurkhas, where the 22-year-old’s family and six other Christian families live, they all claim to be natives of the province and call themselves Sindhi Christians. “People are surprised when I tell them that I am a Sindhi Christian. Everyone has heard of Punjabi Christians but not of Sindhi Christians,” muses Sumaira.
The young woman, who works in a house in Karachi, says that her ancestors belong to Sindh and have lived there all their life. However, her father married a Punjabi Christian.
When Sumaira arrives in Mirpurkhas on Saturday evening with salted delectables and biscuit packets she bought in Karachi, she will spend Easter eve in prayers – both at home and at church. The day would be spent in celebrations, wearing new clothes and going to relatives.
“My mother bakes a delicious chocolate cake especially and my elder sister makes Easter eggs. But the major dish would be ‘beef biryani’ along with sweet rice,” she said in an excited tone.
In the aftermath of terror
Preparations for Easter celebrations have been under way in Peshawar as Christians could be seen busy whitewashing and illuminating the city’s historical churches.
But the tall white walls of the All Saints Church are not whitewashed. They are pockmarked with holes left by shrapnel from a bomb detonated by a suicide bomber targeting worshipers during Sunday mass on Sept 22, 2013. Seven months later, the wound is still raw.
“We cannot be enthusiastic about festivities after losing our loved ones,” said Ayaz Khokhar Masih, 28, who lost his father and elder brother, while his 14-years-old brother has been disabled and cannot use both his legs, while half of his nine-year-old niece’s body got burnt.
Busy cleaning his cab, Masih is not interested in the celebrations but will suffice by performing necessary religious rituals and visiting close relatives. The celebratory juloos (procession) that used to pass through historical bazaars has been discontinued, while the annual fair held at Kohati was cancelled too this year.
Easter the Balochi way
More than 50,000 Christian families celebrate Easter in Balochistan. The community lives in almost every district of the province but a majority of them reside in Quetta for centuries. There are four major churches in Quetta: Holy Rosary and St Mary’s are in Quetta Cantt while the Methodist Church is on Zarghoon Road and the Catholic Church on Jinnah Road, which are packed with people during Easter.
“On this day, we spread the message of love, forgiveness and sacrifice. We pray for peace in the country,” said Father Maqsood at the Catholic Church.
Easter is the day of festivity. People dress nicely and visit relatives. “We prepare delicious foods and exchange gifts as Muslims do on the day of Eid,” said J B William, a resident of Quetta.
“The Christian community has been living peacefully in Balochistan and enjoying religious freedom,” said Aasia Nasir, Member of National Assembly (MNA) and serving her third term on the reserved seat for minorities of Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI-F). “The Baloch and Pashtun people treat us, Christians, as equals and love us.”
Moving on with life
People in Joseph Colony are excited for Easter this time. This is where more than 150 houses of Christians were burnt to ashes on March 9, 2013.
“We are celebrating Easter enthusiastically this year. When we compare it with last year, our lives were tarnished by the tragedy and it was hard to move on. Now, our lives have come back on track and we are grateful to God for this. And one way to thank God and show respect to Jesus is to celebrate Easter with fervour and enthusiasm,” said Master Amir, a resident of Joseph Colony, talking to The Express Tribune.
“There are two churches in Joseph Colony. They were also burnt down by a mob a year ago but have been rebuilt now. Most of the people go to the local churches while some go to bigger churches like Naulakha Church for congregational prayers on Easter,” Amir explained.
Nevy Samuel, a housewife and resident of Joseph Colony, said though the memories of the incident were still fresh in her mind, people were happy that life had moved on.
Napoleon Qayyum, a Christian rights activist, said neither the federal government nor the provincial administration had announced any special package for Christians on Easter. He said in Ramazan there was a subsidy of Rs2 billion for the Punjab, but no such incentives were announced for Christians on Christmas or Easter.
A sombre Easter in the Capital
As the Capital Development Authority’s plan to demolish the slums of Islamabad triggered an aggressive reaction against the authority, a large number of Christians turned up for the Good Friday prayers at the local church.
“When people are in pain, they turn to God. Seeing more people gravitate towards the Church this year indicates that people are troubled by the callous decision. They have turned to God as their final resort,” said social activist William Pervaiz. “They are mourning more and celebrating less. Their festivities are on hold,” said Faisal, a resident of the F-6 Katchi Basti.
Easter is marked with both sorrow and joy. While people recall the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and mourn from Friday onwards, the belief in his resurrection from the dead allows them to celebrate after the Sunday prayers.
The Lady of Fatima Church F-8 and St Thomas Church in G-7 are to conduct mass services on Friday night, at 11pm on Saturday night and finally on Sunday morning at 5 am, after which the festivities begin.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2014.