.- Following a year in which Christians in Pakistan were attacked by extremist Muslims, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, Archbishop Lawrence Suldana of Lahore praised the increased security provided by the police for Christians celebrating Christmas. Although attendance was down, those who made it to church were “strong in faith,” he said.
Archbishop Saldana said that many of Pakistan’s three million Christians were frightened of attacks by suicide bombers. Much of this fear was propagated by unsubstantiated rumors that were disseminated via text message. “We told people to stop texting messages of this kind. It was obvious that this was spreading a sense of panic,” he told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Suldana also said that attendance at Mass was down by as much as 40 percent in certain areas.
This year's Christmas season saw Pakistan on “red alert” because the Shiite Islamic holy day of Ashura fell close to Christmas.
However, the archbishop praised the nation’s security forces for their response to the threats. Police used metal detectors and other security devices to screen the faithful before they entered the church. “A sophisticated security apparatus” was utilized in various churches in Rawalpindi, which is near the country’s capital of Islambad, said Archbishop Saldana. Across the country, churchgoers were also protected by both uniformed and plain-clothed police.
The police also advised that many after-Mass activities such as fairs and get-togethers be scaled back or canceled. To this end, many Christmas celebrations in hotels and schools were affected.
“The police protection was really very good. It wasn’t just the size of the security presence; it was the fact that there were a higher number of police commanders than usual. The whole operation was well resourced,” Archbishop Suldana told ACN.
“Morale here has been very low,” he added. “For many people, the security apparatus meant that going to Mass was very cumbersome. “There were big queues of people getting into church, all standing in single-file. Many people were very worried for their safety.”
Nevertheless, the faithful who made it to Mass were determined to celebrate the feast of the Lord’s birth. “There was a wonderful atmosphere in the churches. People were determined to celebrate and they participated with great enthusiasm,” the archbishop said.