The celebrations for Christmas took place today throughout the country with the considerations of the COVID -19 pandemic procedures. Malls and other places had earlier been decorated with the Jingle Bells theme with Santa, Reindeer, Snowman and the gift bags amidst snow.
According to a local publication reports, Lahore’s Sapna Riaz Malik, this time of the year is both familiar yet strange. As she prepares for Christmas, she is aware the festival may not pan out the way she is used to.
“It’s almost a family tradition, all of us would go to the Cathedral Church on Mall Road to say a prayer every Christmas,” Sapna said. “Like much of this year, we are uncertain about that right now,” she added. “We do want to keep up the tradition, but only if the church allows.”
At home, the festive season would be even more different for Sapna. With the second wave of Covid-19 showing no sign of subsiding, Christian families across Pakistan are expecting to find peace and joy in simplicity and the company of only their closest loved ones.
“Like Easter and Good Friday this year, Christmas too will likely be a low-key celebration for all of us,” Sapna said. “We are only inviting a limited number of guests to our home. We definitely will not be taking our children to any public recreation spot like we usually do.”
Anticipating the challenge of Covid-19, churches across Pakistan have already found an alternative in technology to keep the spirit of togetherness strong this season.
“As we celebrate this great festival, we must protect lives. Not just our own but those of others as well,” the minister of Cathedral Church Shahid Meraj said talking to a local publication’s representative. He shared that throughout the lockdown, all major churches in the city broadcast the Sunday Mass via online platforms.
“If churches are allowed to remain open, then we will make sure all SOPs are followed and only a small number of worshippers are allowed in at a time,” he said. “In any case, we will broadcast the Christmas service online so that people can participate while staying at home.”
Like their Protestant counterparts in Lahore, the city’s Catholic community is also looking to observe Christmas in a limited manner this year. “For precautionary measures, sanitisers and masks are being placed at church entrances and we have arrangements in place to check visitors’ temperature,” said Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw. “Senior citizens and children have been asked to worship at home and participate online instead of attending a church,” he added.
Churches in Islamabad and Rawalpindi have made similar arrangements to ones in Lahore, offering both sanitisers and masks at their gates, making sure visitors will be seated some distance apart and offering online services. According to Father Sarfraz Simon and Father Asif Riaz, churches in each area have set up Zoom accounts and the heads of all households in their parishes have been given a code to participate in online services.
“This year has been full of difficulty for all human beings, but good times follow all hardships,” said Father Riaz. “We pray for the safety and security of Pakistan. We can defeat the disease with our worship and effort,” added Father Simon.
In Karachi, Christmas services will be held at different hours in various churches and will be shared live via social media. “We will celebrate this Christmas will full religious fervour,” said Bishop Sadiq Daniel of Karachi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. “Our service started 6pm today [Thursday] and will continue till 8pm on Christmas day with strict observance of all coronavirus SOPs,” he said. He appealed to all members of Christian community to remember those less fortunate in their prayers and to help them in any way they can.
Talking about Christmas preparations in the metropolis, community leader Urooj Bhatti confirmed that the larger churches would offer several services to allow only a limited number of people in for worship at a time. “These services will span two hours each and will be separated by 15-minute breaks.”
Due to economic difficulties caused by the pandemic, Bhatti said that the Christian community will celebrate Christmas in a simple manner.
In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a senior health official said they had already shared SOPs and precautions with leaders of the province’s Christian community for Christmas. “Everyone is well aware that only all of us together and stop this pandemic from spreading,” the official said. As such, all churches and Christian elders have been advised to ensure all proceedings are held with limited groups at a time.
“We will make sure the SOPs are maintained,” Peshawar Diocese Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter said. “Anything under our observation will be in accordance with the prescribed SOPs but I can’t say anything about the churches in Malakand,” he mentioned.
Reverend Joseph John added that online services would also help prevent the virus from spreading during Christmas. “Those that do attend services in person will be asked to use masks and sanitisers, and observe social distancing.” (Courtesy: expresstribune)
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, said, “We have appealed to the entire Christian community not to overcrowd areas at Christmas and follow the SOPs.”
Departing from the norm, Lahore’s Urdu Bazaar has not been as crowded by people buying decorative items for Christmas this year. Vendors said the main reason is that decorative items could not be imported this year and the pre-existing stock is being sold at higher rates.