12/29/2010, 00.00
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Nepal government protecting Christmas to counter economic crisis

by Kalpit Parajuli
The initiative lets Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas without fear from Hindu extremists. “Christian activities that do not harm the country are welcome in Nepal,” Foreign minister says.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Faced with a serious economic crisis, the Government of Nepal is trying to attract Christian tourists to the Himalayan nation, promoting it as a place of destination for Christmas and New Year holidays. For this reason, the authorities are protecting Christian places of worship from possible attacks by Hindu extremists. Local Catholics and Protestants were thus able to celebrate Christmas Mass and conduct processions in relative security. The increased volume of sales also pleased local businesses.

Prachandaman Shrestha, chairman of the Nepal Tourism Board, announced support and promotional packages for tourists who wish to visit the country at Christmas time.

“Our country is secular and people of any religion are welcome to Nepal,” Nepali Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala added. “This was not the case before but now we invite Christians from the world to come and celebrate Christmas here. Christian activities that do not harm the country are welcome in Nepal,” she said.

In 2007, Nepal became a secular state. The change came after ten years of civil war and centuries of Hindu monarchy. However, Christian and other minorities still survive on the margins of society.

Not only has the government banned apostolic work and proselytising, but in the recent years of political instability, Catholic and Protestant communities have often been the object of attacks from Hindu extremists.

Fr Robin Rai, a priest at Kathmandu’s Assumption cathedral, told AsiaNews, “In the 21st century, the state cannot ignore the presence of religious minorities and ban their activities. Circumstances have changed and Hindus are starting to accept and understand our faith.”

At the same time, Nepali business people and travel agencies have praised the government for its initiative. After being hard hit by the crisis, the national economy got a shot in the arm because of the great opportunities generated by Christmas.

For Rameshwor Tapa, who runs a gift shop near Assumption Cathedral, “one week of Christmas doubled sales for the whole year.”

The government’s action also created greater trust between the Christian minority and other religions. “In addition to Protestants and Catholics, I saw people from other religions buy Christmas gifts and exchange best wishes,” Mr Tapa said.

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