04/10/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Easter in Pakistan: from full churches to prison missions

by Qaiser Felix
About one million Catholics live in the country, 1% of the population. For Holy Week, the bishops have asked the government for extraordinary security measures. The government has promised that next year, Good Friday will be an official holiday. Meanwhile, thousands of faithful are filling the churches of the main cities. In the prison of Faisalabad, 100 prisoners are celebrating Easter with a lunch organized by the priests.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Next year, Good Friday will be a holiday recognized by the government for the Christians of Pakistan. In anticipation of the implementation of the announcement made to AsiaNews by Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities, the churches of Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad, and the other towns where the approximately one million Catholics of Pakistan live are full of faithful for the ceremonies of Holy Week.

The bishops of Pakistan have asked for and obtained extraordinary security measures from the government, to guarantee the peaceful conduct of the celebrations, but every community has organized its services counting on the fact that the parishioners all recognize one another.

During all of Lent, the fourteen stations of the Via Crucis have gathered together an extraordinary number of people, and now that Easter is approaching, the number of participants in the Masses and liturgies of the Triduum is becoming even larger.

Fr. Arthur Charles, vicar general of the diocese of Karchi, explains that already at the Chrism Mass the cathedral of St. Patrick was full, because the faithful "feel a special meaning and seriousness in this Holy Mass." "Some people do not come to church regularly, but they do come to church on special occasions like these holy days. It is a reminder that they have not forgotten God.

"In the situation of Pakistan," Fr Charles says, "the resurrection of Jesus and his overcoming of evil has a powerful meaning. That is why we teach our people to become new people, feeling and bringing Jesus' resurrection in their own hearts and minds so they can witness to Jesus and promote the message of new life in this society."

 

Young people have a special role in the ceremonies of Holy Week, being very active in contributing to the organization of the celebrations, and participation in the liturgical moments. Fr. Andrew Nisari, vicar general of the archdiocese of Lahore, recounts that the "Shaam-e-Calvary" (evening on Mount Calvary) is very well known and appreciated in the city. It is a musical performance in which young people for the most part sing songs dedicated to the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Fr. Nisari says that "different youth groups are busy in doing different things. Some are responsible for cleaning the Church. Some are taking care of security measures. Some are busy in helping people during these holy days. In short, the youth are visible in every matter of the diocese."

During Easter, and especially over the days of the Triduum, the Catholic priests are especially attentive to the poor and needy. Fr. Iftikhar Moon, an assistant at the parish of Warispura near Faisalabad, serves the inmates of the city's prisons. "We visit the central prison of Faisalabad every Sunday for the religious and spiritual formation of the prisoners. The visit includes the Bible reading and its interpretation, singing hymns, counseling and motivation that they should repent for their sins." Christian prisoners do not have access to the same services guaranteed for Muslims, but Minister Bhatti has promised that soon places of worship for non-Muslims will also be set up in the main prisoners of the country. During Holy Week, the work of Fr. Moon and the other priest becomes more intense: confessions, reflections on the Passion, but also the Easter lunch that they prepare for about one hundred Christian prisoners.

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