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Christmas celebrated in hope and fear


HONG KONG (SE): While Christians in Iraq faced the Christmas season of peace and joy in fear and trepidation, Catholics in Nepal reported that they were looking forward to their first Christmas in many years without threats of violence from Hindu fundamentalist groups.

Then, in normally peaceful Japan, people faced the festive season in a mood of crisis and worry, as Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, from Nagasaki, put it, “It is not a time to celebrate in a consumerist society.”

But maybe the message expressing the greatest hope for this Christmas came from Archbishop Charles Bo, of Yangon, in the Union of Myanmar, a country that has undergone profound political changes in the past 12 months.

AsiaNews reported Bishop Shlemon Warduni as saying, “Iraqi Christians are prepared for the difficulties they have been forced to endure for years.”

The auxiliary bishop of Baghdad went on to say that he hopes that Christmas will bring to pass what the angels say; peace on earth.

“Peace and security in Iraq,” he adds, “are in fact the most heartfelt and sincere greetings among Christians, with the hope they may be extended “to the Middle East in general and the whole world.”

He added that although people had put up nativity scenes, Christmas trees and other decorations, all Masses would be celebrated early in the evening instead of the traditional midnight for security reasons.

However, he added that in stark contrast with four or five years ago, spaces formerly occupied by armoured cars are now filled with Christmas trees, openly published Mass schedules and table settings for community celebrations.

AsiaNews also quoted Father Robin Rai, from the cathedral in Kathmandu, as saying that since the fall of the Hindu monarchy in 2006, things have improved radically in Nepal and Christmas is now a public holiday, primarily to boost tourism.

“However, this has enabled Christians to show their sacred images and decorations in shops and outside churches, as well as in private homes,” Father Rai said in describing the radically altered atmosphere.

In recent years, Nepal has been the scene of many attacks, including murders of religious minorities, usually by Hindu extremists. The worst occurred on 23 May 2009 in the Catholic cathedral, which left two people dead and 13 wounded. 

Since 2011, the debate over the enforcement of anti-conversion laws proposed by conservative parties have also come into the picture, but in recent months things have been more peaceful.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Takami said that the economic recession in Japan is threatening the welfare of the weakest members of society and the nuclear cloud that hangs over the country is threatening the welfare of the whole population.

“There are at least two very good and important reasons to say no to nuclear power: the inherent danger in the use of those technologies, no matter how many precautions are taken, and the fact that we do not know yet how to deal with waste,” he said in his Christmas message.

“It is useful, but is too dangerous, it contaminates nature. We cannot put savings or profit above human life or the environment,” Archbishop Takami said from one of the two cities worldwide to have suffered an all out nuclear attack.

He said that the country is split in two over the nuclear issue. “You cannot give an estimate of the percentage of those who are for or against it in Japan. Obviously, in favour of this type of energy are mainly those who work directly with the nuclear sector. Apart from these, there are many others who think of the economic gain and possibility of reducing energy costs. But we are all aware of what can happen, the problems it can bring.”

He added that every Friday brings huge demonstrations in front to the Diet Building in Tokyo.

“There is a huge demonstration against nuclear plants in front of the parliament in Tokyo. It is no longer a question of ideology, as in the past, but it is a national emergency, a new social phenomenon that brings the voice of the people to the front row. The government must listen to this voice,” he continued.

“For this reason,” the archbishop concludes, “This will be a nuclear Christmas for the whole country. The prayers of the Japanese Church are close to those who suffer and those who fight against these forms of injustice. Hopefully that will be heard by the government.”

In contrast, Archbishop Bo said from Yangon that Christians in his country, especially the young, had a profound expectation of peace, joy and reconciliation.

He added that for the first time in the memory of young people, Christmas preparations were going ahead without difficulty, without the need to get permits for every Mass and function.

He called this a great sign of religious freedom in a nation that has only known repression for decades.

“The message,” Archbishop Bo writes, “is encapsulated in the motto, ‘The power of empty hands’ and demonstrates the power of great people in history who won the hearts of the people, like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, without the use of force. The child born in a cradle had nothing in his hands.”

He concludes by saying that history celebrates powerful leaders, emperors, dictators and kings, whose hands are full of wealth, power, weapons and followers.

However, he notes that they are not remembered with love and admiration by their people.

He signs off with the words that this year’s Christmas message is contained in the power of empty hands, like those of the child born in a stable in Bethlehem.


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