ASIA/PAKISTAN - Interreligious meetings and closeness to the poor: the spirit of Christmas

Wednesday, 21 December 2022 christmas   islam   dialogue   local churches   poverty  

Rawalpindi (Agenzia Fides) - The Christian communities of Pakistan live a Christmas characterized by traditional rites, inter-religious meetings and closeness and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Since the 19th century, missionaries have been teaching the signs and rites of Christmas: decorating homes and churches, participating with intensity of faith in liturgical celebrations, singing the well-known Christmas carols, preparing the nativity scene and the Christmas tree. Over the decades, the celebration of the holiday has become more and more inculturated. Now there are local traditions, such as Christmas hymns in Punjabi and Urdu languages, with traditional Pakistani music, accompanied by local musical instruments such as the tabla and dholak. In cities and towns, children's choirs singing these hymns visit neighbors' homes and receive warm hospitality. A custom that is practiced in parish communities is that of sharing food and gifts with the poorest communities, in the spirit of charity that makes Christ feel close to humanity: according to information from Fides, in Faisalabad, the local Caritas organization once again organizes a lunch for needy families, and in some parishes children freed from slavery in brick factories are welcomed and fed.
The traditional Christmas greeting in Pakistan is the phrase "Bara din mubarak ho", which means "The blessing of Christmas upon you". The nation also celebrates a secular holiday on December 25, the birth of the "father of the nation" Muhammad Ali Jinnah: therefore the holiday is also deeply felt by Muslim believers, who often participate in interreligious events, such as the one organized on December 19 in Rawalpindi.
The Archbishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Msgr. Joseph Arshad, during the meeting pointed out: "Intolerance, violence, extremism and the economic crisis are the greatest challenges the country is currently facing". For this reason, it is important to promote interreligious harmony, especially during the festivities of the different communities, which in the past have become opportunities to spread terrorism and violence. "Those who spread hate and carry out terrorist activities in the country have no religion and have total contempt for humanity," said the religious leaders present, Christians, Muslims and Hindus, calling for "constant dialogue between people of different faiths" and pledging to promote interreligious harmony in their respective communities.
The Catholic priest father Sarfraz Simon wanted to emphasize that "since Islam and Christianity share a series of teachings, the followers of both religions are called to work together for peaceful coexistence in Pakistani society", encouraging Muslims to participate in Christian holidays and vice versa, in a spirit of mutual acceptance and solidarity.
On the other hand, Archbishop Arshad recalled, "the poorest, most marginalized and oppressed people in society, who suffer from economic difficulties, deserve special attention at Christmas", by believers and institutions. The Christian community in Punjab province has welcomed the move by the provincial government to allocate financial subsidies to the poorest Christian families on the occasion of Christmas, which will allow them to alleviate their state of need and provide a more serene family livelihood in these dates.
Helping the most disadvantaged also consists of providing free education to children and young people from poor families: with this objective, a few days ago, the Catholic school of Saint Martin in Jhang, a city in the Punjab, reopened its doors, which, thanks to all to the donations of the faithful from abroad, it will be able to continue its work in favor of the development of the poorest communities, welcoming children without discrimination of culture, ethnicity or religion. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 21/12/2022)