12/24/2016, 17.55
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Thousands of Christians celebrate Christmas in Kathmandu despite limitations on religious freedom

by Christopher Sharma

This year Christians will celebrate Christmas “with greater commitment than in previous years,” said Fr Ignatius Rai, pastor at Assumption Cathedral. The country's constitution guarantees freedom of worship but the government no longer recognises the birth day of Jesus as a national holiday.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Thousands of Catholics are expected tomorrow at a mass Christmas celebration in Kathmandu.

Since Nepal constitutionally became a secular state eight years ago, Christians have been allowed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, albeit with some restrictions.

For Fr Ignatius Rai, pastor at Kathmandu’s Assumption Cathedral, "Secularism in the Charter is good for all faiths. This was a victory for all minorities, including Christians, but in practice we want more respect and equality."

This year, he noted, people are preparing to celebrate Christmas "with greater commitment than in previous years and thousands will join the celebrations."

For 240 years (until 2007), Nepal was a Hindu monarchy. Despite changes, Christians still face limitations, noted Fr Gahatrai, general secretary of the Federation of Nepali Christians.

"We understand that our country has been dominated for years by Hindus and that this fact is reflected in many aspects of life,” he explained.

“We are happy with the court's decision to free eight Christians accused of forced conversions. Still we suffer some discrimination. One example is the government’s decision to cancel Christmas as a national holiday. Sometimes we also face restrictions in worship."

Christmas in Nepal is not celebrated only by Christians, but also by members of various religions who recognise him as part of their culture.

Rina Vaidya is a university student in Kathmandu. "I am not a Christian but I have been celebrating this holy day for a number of years. On this day, family and friends meet, sharing feelings of peace and sincerity as taught by Christianity ".

Samjhana Tamang is the mother of two children. "My youngest daughter wanted a Christmas tree decorated with an image of Jesus. Although we are not Christians, we celebrate Christmas every year as part of our culture."

Kanchan Adhikari was born and raised in the Hindu tradition. He lives a few steps from a church in the capital. "Christians have invited me to church for Christmas every year and this year I decided to go with my friends just to give a look".

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