12/10/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Fear of new attacks means “silent” Christmas for Christians

by Fareed Khan
Outdoor recitals, carols and decorations are cancelled. Liturgical services and Midnight Mass will go ahead as usual. Bishops talk about an “atmosphere of fear;” yet the faith of Christian believers is stronger than the violence. The commission of inquiry investigating last summer’s violence in Gojra calls on the government to change the blasphemy laws.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistani Christians are preparing for a silent and low key Christmas without much public pomp and display. The community is still reeling from last summer’s attacks against the villages of Koriyan and Gojra. The army’s offensive against Islamic extremists and the latter’s wave of attacks are not helping either. Indeed, fear of more violence remains high.

Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore and president of the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, told AsiaNews that 2009 is going to end in a “silent Christmas” because the country’s situation is very bad.

In previous years, schools and parishes used to organise outdoor recitals, carols and other events associated with the festivities. This year, many people “have already cancelled events” and “outdoor decorations will not be put up on homes and buildings.”

“This year, the atmosphere and mood are not happy because people are fearful and upset by the country’s current situation,” the archbishop said. Still, liturgical functions and Midnight Mass will go ahead as in the past, and “the number of people will not be less because their faith is firm.”

Attacks against villages and extrajudicial killings carried out in the name of the blasphemy laws have fuelled fears and concerns in the Christian community. However, there are some small signs of hope for change.

A commission of inquiry chaired by a judge from the High Court in Lahore into events in Gojra, a village that was attacked last summer with homes set on fire and eight people killed, called on the government to take a number of steps, including bring changes to the blasphemy laws.

Adopted in 1986 under the rule of then Pakistan dictator Zia-ul-Haq, these laws impose life in prison or the death penalty on anyone who desecrates the Qur‘an or defiles the name of Muhammad.

Christmas has already produced a small miracle by reviving Pakistan’s garment industry.

In an interview published on IslamOnline, Mohsin Mirza, president of the Pakistan Readymade Garments Association, said, “The industry was going down until we received Christmas orders this year.” Overall, “We have received 20 per cent more orders this year,” mostly from the United States and Europe, worth “US$ 1.5 billion in Christmas apparel”.

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