Sombre Christmas for India's Christians

It was an unusually sombre-looking Christmas in India this year. The Yuletide cheer was unanimously toned down in the wake of violence on Christians especially in Orissa, Karnataka, Mumbai terrorist attacks and the global economic crisis affecting the nation.

The festive atmosphere was missing as streets were absent of shoppers and Christmas festivities toned down across the nation.

Churches that had anticipated a huge turnout of pilgrims were apparently disappointed when fewer people than expected turned up to their Christmas services.

Says Archbishop of Bangalore Bernard Moras, "The recent terror attacks in Mumbai and the attacks on churches in Karnataka no doubt created a sense of despair, but our faith makes us believe that God will vindicate all and restore peace. The Christmas message is one of hope. So we always hope for good things."

Madhu Chandra, member of the All India Christian Council, said: "The day after Christmas, on December 26, it will be a month after the Mumbai terror attacks - an event which shook the entire nation. So many innocent lives were lost … keeping that in mind I don’t think people are in the mood to celebrate."

He told IANS, "We want to mourn for the Mumbai victims with the rest of the country. Also, the attacks on the Christian community in Kandhamal in Orissa this August and now the call for a bandh on Christmas have set off a feeling of fear of fascist forces in the community."

In Orissa, although there were no reports of violence, Christians reportedly celebrated a subdued Christmas. Thousands in relief camps joined prayers and church services, still haunted by the knowledge that their homes and properties have been destroyed in violence triggered by the murder of a local radical Hindu leader in August.

The Archbishop of Cuttack-bhubaneshwar, Raphael Cheenath, had earlier advised churches and Christians in remote areas in Kandhamal against holding midnight mass or prayer services. He, along with the Catholic Bishops Council of India (CBCI), urged Christians to celebrate a low-profile Christmas.