03/21/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Catholics crowd churches for Palm Sunday services

by Qaisir Felix
The faithful are urged to pray; they are also invited to go and see Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ'.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of Catholics took part in Palm Sunday mass at the Waris Pura parish church, the biggest in Faisalabad diocese.

People of all ages walked in procession, an olive branch in their hands, chanting religious hymns and songs. Streets in Christian areas were decorated with palm leaves and flowers.

Once the procession made its way back to Holy Rosary Church the crowd too big for all to be inside; many had to celebrate the Eucharist outside.

Similar scenes were repeated in the many Christian and Catholic churches of the country.

In his homily Fr Patrick, a Dominican and Holy Rosary's parish priest, invited everyone to remember during Holy Week the "pain and suffering Jesus endured" when he accepted to be crucified "for our sins and our salvation so that we could have eternal life".

"We should not reject Christ as his contemporaries did," Father Patrick said, "but should instead embrace him whole heartedly and with greater devotion".

"This demands," he insisted, "we help those around us who are in pain and live in sorrow and need."

Father Patrick also invited those present to go and see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, a "movie that captures the pain and agony Jesus endured in his final hours before the crucifixion".

"This is the time when we have to tear ourselves as Jesus Christ did on the Cross. And for this we should follow the noble examples set by the Saints . . . They faced courageously all [kinds of] hardships and difficulties to bear witness of Jesus."

Currently, Pakistan's Christians, who number some 3.8 million (2.5 per cent), are going through trying times. They are targets of the violence by Islamic extremists, left unprotected by the authorities who uphold blasphemy laws too often used as a blunt instrument by Muslim fundamentalists.

Despite the problems, the country's 1.3 million Catholics have been celebrating Lent with great fervour. Every Friday the via crucis attracts more faithful than normal services. Many are also those who observe ritual fasting.

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