[PTI] Christians across Pakistan are gearing up to celebrate Christmas with joy and fervour but under the shadow of tight security and the gruesome bombing of a Peshawar church in September that killed 82 people.
“It is also a somber occasion this time around because of the Peshawar church bombing. Despite the element of fear, people are thronging churches and the numbers would be high on Christmas,” Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, told PTI.
Asked about security measures, he said churches are taking care of this on their own along with government agencies. “We are living in a sort of situation where there is a sense of consciousness in the community that one has to be conscious and aware of security needs,” he said.
The NCJP is a human rights body set up by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference in 1985.
Though Christian community has earlier been targeted by extremist groups, the bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar was the deadliest attack against it.
Two bombers blew themselves up in the courtyard of the historic church as worshippers exchanged greetings after a service leaving at least 82 dead and hundreds of families shattered.
Father Bonnie Mendes of the Society for Human Development said besides state-provided measures, churches are ensuring security through volunteers.
“We are sorry that the situation is going this way. It is not hurting just our country but others in the region also,” he said.
He said churches have volunteers who keep an eye out for suspicious people and put up metal detectors.
“So much security to even celebrate,” he rued.
It is not just extremists that Christians are afraid of. Many Christians have been convicted under the controversial blasphemy law in the country.
Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were shot dead by extremists after they voiced support for a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. Taseer was shot dead by his own police guard for opposing the blasphemy law.
Christians in Pakistan often belong to lowest status and hold the lowest paid jobs.