Emanuel Sarfraz - QThe December 16 tragedy at the Army Public School shook the whole nation and even now the nation is in a state of shock and grief. It, however, brought stability in the political climate as all political parties decided to come on one platform and unite against the enemies of state. It was Christmas season when it happened and almost every day events were taking place to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The Christian community a victim of terrorism in the past was grieved to hear the sad and shocking news. All the Christians including the two major denominations Catholics and Protestants decided to celebrate Christmas in a simple manner.

All the Christmas fun fairs, parties and dinners have been cancelled. Other functions and get-togethers are being held in a very simple way. There is no lighting on churches, buildings of Christian institutions, schools, colleges and even on homes of Christians. Inside the houses the decoration was simple with Christmas tree and other typical decoration items being used. The choir parties that move from house to house also did not engage in the activity. The churches were decorated with simple flowers and Christmas symbols like Christmas tree, star, bells, candy cane and the crib. Carol singing functions were held as usual but in a simple manner. The carols that were sung were not upbeat numbers but all had mellow music. Special compositions were made for new national songs that were sung along with the Christmas carols. The national song sung by Nadia Rafiq was the most hit song of the season and was repeatedly shown on TV channels. Since December 16 special prayers have been offered and are being offered for the martyrs of Peshawar and for their families that God Almighty may give courage to the bereaved families to bear the irreparable loss. All the Christians at various forums have demanded exemplary punishment for those who were involved in the attack on children. The expression of solidarity with the Peshawar victims shows that Pakistanis are a resolute nation and peace lovers.

The Christians in Waziristan have been living there for more than hundred years. The Taliban never disturbed them as they had always been there and in forefront of community work. After the Zarb-e-Azab Operation by army 2,000 Christians have been displaced. They are living in Christian community schools in Bunnu and in tents villages set up by the army. I would suggest that we should remember them in our prayers and if possible donate to army or Peshawar Diocese to support them financially and with items of daily use.

In the face of terrorism and threat to security due to misuse of blasphemy laws a lot of Christians in the last four years have fled abroad. Many of them sold their houses before fleeing the country. Most have applied for asylum from the United Nations in countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia. They will be repatriated to other countries that are willing to take these refugees and give them new citizenship. The process of making a decision on their applications is very low. Some have been there for three to four years. There, they live in difficult conditions and some practically went to the extent of begging. Many Christian families have come back as they could not meet the expenses and after spending all the money they had. Mrs. Shabana Samuel went to Malaysia with her four children. After one year she decided to come back to Pakistan. For her life is the same here in Pakistan except for the fact that she now lives in a rented house. Many Christians among those fleeing the country are tired of the rising extremism in the country and many leave in search of greener pastures.

Since you are an asylum seeker you are not allowed to work. Many of these helpless people start working illegally. At times they are caught by the Immigration police and put in Immigration Detention Centres (IDC). My friend Pervaiz’s sister’s family is in Bangkok. Her husband was caught and put in IDC. He is in IDC for the last eight months and will remain there till his case of asylum is decided by UNO.

Those in Indonesia are the ones who want to go to Australia illegally by boats. The number of Christians among these is small. Most are Hazarans, Afghans carrying Pakistani passports and some Pathans. They often get cheated by human smugglers who are based in Malaysia and Indonesia. Many Pakistanis are living in the IDCs in Papua New Guinea and Christmas Island.

A lot of Pakistanis including Christians are stranded in Greece and other European countries. Many of them are seeking asylum on various grounds. Some Christians are in detention centre on the island of Malta. They wanted to go to Sicily in Italy by small boats. It is requested that we should not forget these Christians and other Pakistanis who will be celebrating Christmas in strange lands that have little resemblance to our motherland.

Times have changed and so have the traditions. I was pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful Christmas card sent to me by a relative, who happens to live in England. We often talk to each other on skype. I asked him how the idea came to him. He replied he missed the old Christmas. The tradition of making handmade Christmas cards has also disappeared.

It gives me great pleasure whenever I get to eat the homemade Christmas cake, a trend that is fast disappearing. I remember every family had their own recipe for making these rich plum cakes. With the disappearing of this tradition I fear all those recipes are lost for good.

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness will not go in vain. Christians are in sorrow but the true spirit of Christmas will continue to dominate the life and style during the run up to New Year night. We need to remember those who are in trouble and pain. We need to remember those who are suffering for no cause of their own but due to rising inflation, price hike, gas and electricity loadshedding and all the Pakistanis that fled the country in recent years. Is it not ironical we played host to nearly 3 million refugees in 80s and till now. But now Pakistani refugees are living in many countries. Let us hope all that changes in year 2015. New Year day is important for Christians as it marks the naming and circumcision of Jesus Christ. We look forward to a peaceful and prosperous 2015 for all the people of Pakistan.  n