12/15/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christmas of solidarity in Pakistan

by Qaiser Felix
This year Christmas will not be a time of useless expenses, but one of prayers and offerings to Kashmir quake survivors and to the Christians of Sangla Hill, victims of religious intolerance.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – "We want to convey a message of hope and simplicity as well as share the pain of those who are frightened and hopeless in the face of religious intolerance and natural disasters," said Fr Pascal Palus, parish priest in Warispura, as he talked to AsiaNews about how his parish is living Advent and preparing for Christmas.

"We are preparing for the birth of Jesus in a different way after the October 8 quake that devastated the Kashmir region and the acts of intolerance in Sangla Hill," he said.

On November 12, churches, convents and Christian schools (both Protestant and Catholic) were attacked by a crowd of about 2,000 people apparently angered by charges of blasphemy levelled at a local Christian.

"We believe that the victims of these terrible events need our prayers, help and encouragement," he added.

"In the days before the first Sunday of Advent we met all the catechists and nuns and decided to focus on praying, sharing and simplicity," Father Pascal said. "I am thankful to all parishioners who understood the situation and decided to work with the Church".

The parish runs five catholic schools each of which is used to preparing Christmas celebrations on their own. But this year, "we shall all be together for a simple and low-cost Christmas".

The money saved from not putting up decorations and having parties "will go to quake survivors and the people of Sangla Hill".

So far, the parish has already sent two trucks loaded with relief material to the quake zone.

"We have decided to hold a seminar on December 22 involving local youths to discuss these two tragedies. We want them to reflect on what has happened and make suggestions as to what can be done to help these people," Father Pascal said.

In his parish, Advent is also celebrated in the streets. "We have a list of 30 streets near the parish church where Dominican fathers, assisted by nuns, will celebrate the Eucharist to increase awareness among the people of what the times we live in mean," he said.

In these ceremonies, priests prepare Christmas by "reminding people of the message of Christ, which is based on simplicity, sharing, joy and hope".

New clothes and superfluous stuff "are not part of this message. [Instead,] we must cleanse our hearts and minds".

This year, members of the local congregation have "given the Church a special gift for Christmas," Father Pascal said.

"Thanks to their donations, including those of the poorest, we have built a new church in the poorest part of town. Mgr Coutts, bishop of Faisalabad, will bless it right on Christmas day"

Finally, "the money has allowed us to open a new Marian shrine in Holy Rosary Church and religious bookshop," he explained.

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