Attacks on Christians
In eastern Pakistan yesterday, three girls, aged 6, 10, and 15, were killed when two assailants tossed grenades into the Christmas service of a tiny church. At least 13 people were injured by the terrorists, who entered the church dressed in burqas.
Associated Press reports that most of the 40 people at the worship service 40 miles outside of Lahore in the Punjab province were women and children.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Protestant church in Daska, but police have detained four men. One of those detained is a local Muslim cleric, who just days before made threats toward Christians in a sermon. According to the Associated Press, he said, "It is the duty of every good Muslim to kill Christians. You should attack Christians and not even have food until you have seen their dead bodies."
Both the cleric and his son belong to a banned anti-India group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. A spokesman for the group denies that it had any connection to the bombing.
Suspicions are also centering on a church security guard who was not at his post during the service. He is in police custody and is being questioned.
Christian churches in Pakistan were on high alert before the attack in Daska because of high religious tensions in the country. Security concerns were increased earlier yesterday when a bag of bullets and bombs were found near a major Islamabad church. Services there were reportedly not cancelled.
Bloodshed and threats of violence also marked the Christmas holiday in India and Yugoslavia.
Fifty armed men seized a church in the Indian state of West Bengal on Christmas Eve where more than 1,000 worshippers had gathered for a midnight service. The attackers robbed hundreds and injured a priest and 15 others. The men, armed with guns and bombs, fled when police arrived.
According to the Associated Press, hard-line Serb nationalists prevented Anglican worshippers from using a Serbian Orthodox chapel for a Christmas Eve service in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
Somber Christmases elsewhere
In other countries, Christians celebrated a subdued, somber Christmas in the face of war, religious tension, and political anxiety.
In Indonesia, site of the Oct. 12 bombing of a nightclub, police found 550 pounds of a fertilizer often used in explosives. Police say the amount is greater than that used in the previous bombing that left 192 dead. Christians attending Christmas services in Jakarta had to go through metal detectors and have their bags checked.
This year marks Bethlehem's first Christmas since 1994 celebrated under Israeli military control. No lights, decorations, or Christmas trees were displayed in protest of occupation. Religious ceremonies were held but news reports say the day was "gloomy," without pilgrims, and somber. Some observers have called it the city's "saddest Christmas ever."
The day was celebrated much the same way in Iraq, where minority Christians quietly marked the day and prayed for peace. According to The Washington Post, some Christians fear that additional U.S. action in Iraq will cause a violent backlash against them.
These concerns may have been increased by Saddam Hussein's Christmas message in which he said that the "drums of war were beating louder." According to Reuters, some Iraqis celebrated Christmas as an act of defiance against the United States.
Santa, God … Can children tell the difference? | Churches find that St. Nick is still a tough competitor (The Dallas Morning News)
Home for Christmas? You Can't Count on Them | For many, the holiday is no longer the Norman Rockwell gathering around the tree, the roast, the carols. (The New York Times)
Yuletide a secular festivity for many | Christmas isn't just for Christians anymore. (Scripps Howard News Service)
Peace on earth | Let us not forget the true meaning of Christmas (the Right Rev. James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, The Guardian)
Canada's Christmas tree controversy—BBC
L.A. Cathedral Holds First Christmas Mass—Associated Press
Salvation Army holiday dinner nourishes more than just needy—The Miami Herald
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