Christians in Pakistan celebrate Christmas amid heightened security
Despite the continued threat of terrorist attacks, Christian communities across Pakistan celebrated Christmas Sunday in much the usual way, with great zeal and joyfulness.
Prayers were offered for peace, progress, and prosperity of Pakistan as well as for the safety of all humanity. The faithful took part in traditional Yuletide activities, including illuminating houses and neighborhoods, and came to church prepared by their leaders to expect bodily searches from security personnel.
In the end, there were no violent attacks to mar the celebration of the Lord's birth, and many credited the heightened security measures for keeping the peace.
Amir Rufin, a Catholic from Lahore, told ACI Mena, "We had a peaceful Christmas as there was not even a single incident that happened anywhere. We are thankful to the local administration, security agencies, and the police for providing security to us, so we should offer prayers peacefully."
For the last few weeks, in response to December terrorist attacks across the country, law enforcement agencies visited churches to put into place comprehensive security arrangements for prayer services and other religious activities on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Just two days before Christmas, Pakistani militants carried out a suicide bombing in Islamabad, the country's capital. When police tried to stop them at a checkpoint one police officer was killed.
More than 1,500 policemen were deployed around churches in the capital to ensure foolproof security during prayer services. In Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, near the Afghanistan border, Pakistan army personnel also set up posts in volatile areas.
Christians began decorating their homes and their neighborhoods in November, and in many communities were assisted by their Muslim neighbors. In a "katchi abadi" (squatter settlement) in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, Muslims lent a hand to help decorate the Christmas tree.
Seraphine Pervaiz, a Catholic from Lahore, told ACI Mena that every year in her neighborhood Muslims are "happy and proud" to take part in such Christmas activities.
Christmas is celebrated openly in this Muslim-majority country. Big hotels and supermarkets also put up Christmas trees to mark Christmas. And preparations begin early -- in big cities Christmas shops open in October.
In many places, the arrival of Santa Claus was a big attraction for children. Apart from prayer services and other religious activities, different social activities such as Christmas cake-cutting ceremonies were held. Even government departments and ministries take part in the Christmas festivities with their own cake-cutting ceremonies.
A cake-cutting ceremony was also held at the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad. On this occasion, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif greeted Christians with a special message:
"Merry Christmas to the Christian community around the world and particularly our Pakistani Christian brothers and sisters. Jesus Christ's teachings of love, brotherhood and peace are beacons of light for us. On this day, let us all renew our pledge to work for peace and prosperity for all."
President Dr. Arif Alvi also extended his felicitations and warmest wishes to the Christian community.
During their Christmas messages, many Muslim political leaders lauded the contribution of Pakistani Christians in service to the country and assured these communities that Christians are an integral part of the Pakistani nation.
This story was first published by ACI Mena, CNA's Arabic-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.