12/10/2015, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Bomb threats and security clamp down on Christmas festivities for Lahore's Christians

by Jibran Khan
The Lahore authorities have issued a warning for possible attacks during Advent and festive season. Christian community main target, already the subject of attempted attack last March. Nostalgia for decorations and songs of the past, but now "everything is empty." Imam of the Grand Mosque of Lahore calls on authorities to "take all necessary security measures."

Youhanabad (AsiaNews) –Lahore’s Christians in Youhanabad’s neighborhood are preparing to celebrate Advent and Christmas amid heavy security following numerous threats of attacks.

The leaders of the various communities of the city, one of the most important centers of Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan, in recent days reported to the authorities that they had received threats and warnings from extremist movements.

This has provoked a reaction from the Minister of Justice of Punjab, who described the rumors as "credible" adding that Youhanabad’s churches are at risk, already the scene of a bloody attack last March that left 20 dead and 70 wounded, and more generally the entire city of Lahore.

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr. Nasir George, priest in Lahore, confirmed the pervasive "uncertainty" among faithful who still remember the terrible images of the attacks in March. "New threats - he adds - have given rise to a new wave of fear" and people increasingly are afraid to go to places of worship, because they do not feel protected by the police who, in most cases, protect the attackers.

Nusrat Bibi, a teacher Youhanabad, recalls the recent past with nostalgia and sorrow, when for example the season of Advent was an opportunity to "decorate the streets, the houses, the churches". However, this year the fear and uncertainty reigns in the streets of the Christian suburb of Lahore, and "no one is safe." It's like someone, he adds, "we had our private happiness." Youhanabad was "a symbol of the spirit of Christmas in the City", but now "everything is empty."

Local sources said that the police have increased security measures in the area, with repercussions on business. This is confirmed by a street vendor, Mr. Luke Francis, who is stationed outside a Catholic church in Youhanabad. "It doesn’t not even look like Christmas - he says - there are no events, no decorations, no participation by the people."

Maulana Arif Hameed Khan Khateeb, preacher at the Grand Mosque in Lahore, spoke out against the threats against Christians saying that is "sad" to hear this news "as the faithful prepare to celebrate their holiday." "Once – says the Muslim leader – the air would resonate with Christmas carols from the beginning of December, the religious leaders [Christians] would come to visit the mosque and bring sweets. This year looks like a desert. " Islam is a religion of peace, he commented, and this is why "we appeal to the authorities, so that they take all possible measures to ensure the security of religious minorities."

Christmas is a time of joy, hope, said Fr. Haroon Arif of Youhanabad, and "we want to bring this message to every home, so that the birth of the Messiah because is celebrated. We encourage the faithful to pray and fast for this year ... pray for peace, prosperity and happiness in the year next".

More than 100 thousand Christians live in the suburb of Youhanabad. Lahore is the capital of Pakistan's most populous and wealthy province Punjab. In the recent past, the city was considered one of the more peaceful compared to many other areas of the country, in a large majority Sunni Muslim nation where there have been many incidents of attacks against minorities, particularly Christians.

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