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Nepal Christians celebrate Xmas with new spirit

ICC Note:
Christians are able to worship more freely in Nepal after a pro-democracy movement in 1990 and the growth of educational institutions and hospitals run by missionaries.

Malaysia Sun
IANS (12/25/06) – Freed from the fear of being jailed for practising Christianity in the world’s only Hindu kingdom, Christians began Xmas celebrations with a new spirit in secular Nepal.

About eight months ago, a pro-democracy movement swept King Gyanendra off from the seat of power and installed a new multi-party government that pledged to uphold human rights and make Nepal a secular nation instead of following Hinduism as the state religion.

Before the April revolution, though the government was largely tolerant of other religious practices, there were some restrictions, like a ban on converting or attempting to convert people to other religions, especially Christianity.

The law punished proselytising with a fine or imprisonment or both while foreigners involved were usually deported.

Though some Christian groups continue to allege harassment and suspicion by government agencies, the general feeling in the community is that Nepal became more tolerant after the pro-democracy movement of 1990 and the growth of educational institutions and hospitals run by missionaries.

However, one of the most sensational cases of ‘persecution’ occurred in October 2000 when four Christians, including a Norwegian, were arrested on charges of attempting to convert others in eastern Nepal.

The arrests were made after a teacher alleged the four had offered him money to convert to Christianity.

Despite pleas by international organisations, a district court sentenced all four to three months in prison. Eventually, they were released in February 2001.

The sea change since then has been celebrated by Christians of Makwanpur district in central Nepal who felicitated 32 members of the community who had earlier suffered a prison sentence.

To mark their jubilation at the new freedom as well as to celebrate Xmas, Christians in the district also took out a public rally.

Nepal’s growing number of churches celebrated midnight mass on Christmas eve with special services.

Though about 1.7 percent of Nepal’s population is Christian, the birth of Christ is celebrated by the nation with gusto this year, thanks to a truce called by Maoists and the withdrawal of a two-day general strike threatened by them from Dec 31.

Nepal’s tourism industry has embraced the festival with hotels, restaurants and bars doing roaring business as people also began celebrating the advent of a new year that seems to hold out the offer of peace and progress after a decade of armed insurgency that killed nearly 15,000 people.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala added Christmas to the list of official programmes, extending greetings to the Christian community.

‘Each community’, the message said, ‘has to make their best efforts to establish sustainable peace and build a new and prosperous Nepal.’