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Putting Christmas back on the rails

LAHORE (UCAN): The Railways and Human Rights Ministries in Pakistan ran a special train over the Christmas period to express solidarity with the minority Christian community and promote interfaith harmony.

State-run Associated Press Pakistan quoted unnamed officials as saying what they termed a special human rights train was the first rail service to celebrate a minority festival.

The human rights train departed from Islamabad on December 22 en route for Peshawar, finally arriving in Rawalpindi on December 23, before embarking on its final leg to Lahore where it arrived on December 24.

The minister for Railways, Khawaja Saad Rafique, and federal minister for Human Rights, Kamran Michael, the only non-Muslim minister in the cabinet, waved the train out of Islamabad station. The train was hauling five carriages decorated with messages of religious tolerance, brotherhood and love.

Kamran told the Daily Times that the Christian community is an equal partner in the struggle for ensuring sustained development, stability, security and solidarity in Pakistan.

He described the special train as highlighting the role of Christians in the creation of Pakistan, adding that the constitution of the nation grants non-Muslims the freedom to observe their religion.

Father Qaiser Feroz, the executive secretary of the Social Communications Commission, welcomed the first Christmas train in Pakistan.

“It is a unique initiative to boost the campaign for harmony and peace. We only had such trains on Eid and other special occasions in the past. It is a powerful message to extremists who do not tolerate followers of other religions. The government should think of more ways to endorse religious harmony,” he said.

Father James Channan, the regional coordinator of the United Religions Initiative Pakistan, called it an extremely admirable gesture.

“I congratulate the ministers who have doubled Christian joy,” the Dominican priest said, adding that the messages displayed on the train are the teaching of Jesus Christ.

“I just hope they give discounts to passengers who want to spend these holidays with their loved ones,” the priest, who organised an interfaith celebration in Lahore on December 18, said.

“There is a great need to promote the message of religious harmony at present when terrorism and hate prevail,” he concluded.

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