12/03/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Islamabad, a pre-Christmas party for children of the "Christian ghetto"

by Jibran Khan
The Masihi Foundation has organized a day of prayer and fun, with games and candy. There is also a Muslim human rights activist, who calls for greater "integration" of minorities in the Pakistani community. Catholic priest emphasizes the importance of education as a means of social redemption.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The Christian children of the "French colony" in Islamabad - a kind of ghetto where religious minorities live in conditions of marginalization and poverty – were treated to a small taste of Christmas. Yesterday, the Masihi Foundation organized a party for delivery of gifts to students who attend the local school, along with moments of fun and games, which was also attended by a Muslim human rights activist, who distributed sweets to those present . The educational institution run by the Pakistani Foundation that is fighting for the rights of minorities, which opened earlier this year by the bishop of the capital, is home to many children of the ghetto and is an element of hope and of social redemption for many Christian families who want a better future for children.

Late yesterday afternoon the children of the community, dressed to the nines and accompanied by their parents, gathered at the school at the centre of the "French colony" to participate in this special celebration of "Christmas." Fr. Anwar Patras led the opening prayer and, referring to the school opened in the "ghetto", spoke of the fundamental importance of education for social redemption. "No human being - said the priest - can survive without education", which is a "primary good" such as food, clothing and shelter. Because the school is not only a place where for study and learning, but it is also a place to "meet and interact with friends and teachers." He concluded: "Education will prepare you for a wise leadership", hoping for a better future for new generations of Christians in Pakistan.

The inhabitants of the "French colony" work in menial and poorly paid positions, at least those who have a job. Among these, the majority are employed by the municipal district of the capital, Islamabad, for low grade jobs. Such as Gulfam Masih, employed to clean the streets, who confides to AsiaNews, he does not want his children to have to put up with a job like his and thanks God “for the opportunities they have to study." The father is happy to participate with his son in the "pre-Christmas" celebration and confirms that the children "can not wait" for the holiday. Alishba John, a child who is studying in a Christian school, adds that "the best things are the gifts, new clothes, meeting friends and playing together."

Muslim leader and human rights activist in Islamabad, Naveen Khan, also attended the celebration distributing Christmas sweets to the children along with Father Patras. "I follow closely the persecution of minorities in Pakistan - the Muslim activist tells AsiaNews - and I'm delighted to be here among children that are treated as untouchables." These people, she adds, are human beings even though they are persecuted or marginalized from the rest of the community. "I will spend Christmas with these children - she concludes - and tell the world that they are people of peace, who want to be an integral part of society."

With 1.6 per cent of the population and some 3 million believers, Pakistan’s Christian minority is the country’s second largest religious minority after Hindus. For a long time, it has been the victim of marginalisation and violence, made worse by the progressive Islamisation of the country launched by General Zia-ul-Haq in the mid-1980s.Most Christians are rural migrants. When they arrive in the cities, they are forced to live in so-called colonies, virtual ghettoes, and take humble jobs as cleaners and sanitation workers with a status comparable to that of India’s untouchables.

The France Colony (pictured) is in the heart of Pakistan’s Federal Capital of Islamabad. It gets its name from the fact that the old French Embassy was located in the area. It has 600 dwellings, surrounded by a wall. Access is provided by one main entrance, plus three or four rarely used openings, on the other side of the compound. Muhammad Saddique, a local Muslim, said that the wall was built after local “rich and noble Muslim families” called on city officials to protect them from the eyesore of the ‘Christian ghetto’.

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