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AsiaNews (01/10/06) – Catholics in Kashmir ’s capital can neither buy land nor houses, nor can they bury their dead or celebrate Midnight Mass for lack of priests. It is a place “that can’t be reached on foot and people can’t move” when it gets cold, this according to Bahadar Masih, 65, a Catholic living in the mountainous area.

“On Christmas afternoon, we had mass in the home of one us. The function was celebrated by the parish priest of Abottabad, the nearest town with a resident priest,” he said.

“There are some Evangelical Christians in nearby areas and sometimes they come to see us for Sunday mass or other occasions, but that is all,” said Liaqat Masih, 28.

But this is not all. “We moved here in 1979 because the government promised us some facilities, but it failed to deliver,” said Ms Khurseed, a 58-year-old municipal employee.

Fr Inayat Patras, Abottabad’s parish priest, told AsiaNews that Kashmiri authorities offered land for a church and a graveyard “after the tragedy”.

This came too late for a local family, he lamented. “Back in late July, a Christian girl died in the city, but her parents were forced to rent a truck to take the body in a village in Punjab . They were not allowed to bury her here. The truck was packed with 12 relatives plus the coffin but because of a landslide on route it ended up in a river. Six people died—two from drowning— and all the others were wounded.”

“We all have to live in rented homes,” Ms Khurseed explains. “And we don’t have any church or cemetery. Muslims don’t even allow us to bury our dead in their cemeteries. We have to bury our loved ones far away and that can be dangerous,” she added.

“We are forced to dump the dead in the river because we have no other choice,” says mournfully Perveen Riasat, 36.

“We have decided to pursue another plan,” Fr Patras said, “because we can’t go on like this. We’ll hire good lawyers and get the permission to buy land and houses. We’ll find donors who can fund all this.”

“Catholics have been living here for 30 years and the world must know in what miserable conditions,” he concluded.