Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Catholic churches in Nepal are busy with Christmas preparations. This year, the festivity will be celebrated without the threat of Hindu fundamentalist groups. Sources told AsiaNews that hundreds of people are expected at Kathmandu's Assumption Cathedral, including Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Christians. For the past few years, people of other faiths have participated in the celebrations as well as other initiatives in various parishes.
Since the fall of the Hindu monarchy in 2006, the government has made Christmas a national holiday to boost tourism. This has enabled Christians to show their sacred images and decorations in stores and outside churches and homes. At present, Catholics number 10,000, 4,000 more than in 2006 when a secular state was declared.
Greater religious freedom has allowed more Catholics to show their faith in public. Churches are showing their Christmas schedule, dressing up their yards with crèches, trees and garlands where once stood armoured cars.
Greater visibility has also attracted non-Catholics in greater numbers. During Christmas Mass, Kathmandu's small Catholic community will celebrate 24 new baptised members, young and old, mostly Hindus.
Fr Robin Rai, the cathedral's parish priest, called on the faithful to bear witness to the real meaning of the birth of Jesus for mankind. "I ask everyone to come to confession to strengthen your faith so that you may spread the Christian message to the whole country," he said.
In recent years, Nepal was the scene of various attacks, including murders, against religious minorities, usually by Hindu extremists. The worst occurred on 23 May 2009 in the Catholic cathedral, which left two people dead and 13 wounded.
Since 2011, the debate over the enforcement of anti-conversion laws proposed by conservative parties has also come into the picture. However, changes to the penal code have been stopped in parliament by the need to complete the drafting of the new constitution.