PESHAWAR: Christians in the settled and tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa celebrated Christmas on Sunday amid tight security.
In Peshawar, all churches and cathedrals as well as All Saints Church in the Kohati area were decorated and well-illuminated since Saturday and religious services continued till late night.
Hundreds of families visited churches for the morning service on Sunday after which they exchanged greetings and headed home.
Meanwhile, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police made special security arrangements at all churches. Worshippers were thoroughly searched before being allowed to enter churches.
FC personnel were also deployed for maintaining peace on the occasion. Security personnel were deployed on rooftops of churches.
The annual Christmas fair in Kohati area has remained suspended for several years because of bad security situation, but a small fair was arranged at Edwards’ school this year. Father Patrick Naeem Johnson of the All Saints’ Church, targeted by militants in September 2013, said: “We have certainly not forgotten those who have lost their lives in the attack on All Saints Church,” Johnson said.
The reminder saddened the people who were in attendance of church service.
He said that special prayers were offered by the community.
Special prayers were also offered for the progress, peace and development of the country.
Besides sermons, the devotees also lighted candles and sang hymns.
“We fully cooperated with security officials and are thankful for the services they provided,” said Johnson.
“Christmas is more than just an exchange of gifts and good wishes,” said Vicky Bhatti.
According to him, this was an opportunity for exchanging love, harmony and respect for others.
Bhatti said that Christians of the Peshawar lacked such entertainment facilities.
High-ranking police officials visited various churches across the city to check security arrangements and participated in the special prayers on Sunday.
SSP Operations, Peshawar, Sajjad Khan said that between December 24 and January 1 next year, special security will be provided to all 34 churches across the district.
“We have deployed around 1,500 policemen near the Christian neighbourhoods and places of worship to ward off any untoward incident,” he said.
Police officers, he said, visited churches in their jurisdictions and took part in prayers.
Christmas was also observed in FATA. In Ghallanai, the headquarters of the Mohmand Agency, Catholics and Protestants observed their Christmas prayers and prayed for peace in FATA.
APA upper Mohmand Haseebur Rehman Khalil and Lt-Col Muhamad Omair also participated in the Christmas programmes.
The political administration also prepared Christmas meal.
Stressing the need for separate churches for Catholics and Protestants, he said that people in FATA were peace-loving, adding that even during the worst of rights violations across the world, no Christian was ever murdered in FATA, demonstrating the attitude of people in FATA towards Christians and other minority groups.
APA Haseebur Rehman announced granting two-kanal piece of land for a Christian graveyard in the Mohmand Agency.
He said that there was no discrimination towards any minority group in the tribal areas.
The Christian community also celebrated Christmas with religious zeal and fervour here.
Special security measures were made by the district administration to protect churches.
Personnel of FC, police and Balochistan Constabulary were deployed at all main churches.
Churches across Balochistan were beautifully decorated and the Christian community prayed for the country’s stability, development and prosperity. (With input from correspondents in Shabqadar and Quetta)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2016.