By Kamran Chaudhry
Church leaders are urging the Pakistan government to revise coronavirus guidelines for Christmas events regarding the prohibition of carpets in churches.
The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination on Dec. 16 issued guidelines that prohibited carpets or mats in churches, touching Christmas trees, traditional gift exchange and recommended minimal travel during Christmas holidays.
“With the Covid-19 pandemic in full rage, the safest thing that can be done during this Christmas holiday is to stay home. There should be limited in-person contacts during holiday preparations and celebrations,” it states.
“In such events, prevention of importation of the virus from one household to other and other places like shopping malls and churches is an essential element in avoiding or minimizing the occurrence of infection and of serious outbreaks in these settings and beyond. Precautions are required by the public, especially the Christian community to protect themselves and prevent transmission.”
Father Tariq Mehmood, parish priest of St. John Vianney Church in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is disturbed by the latest guidelines.
“There are no pews in our church. The faithful have been praying cross-legged for decades. It is Pashtun culture to sit for dining and praying. It will be impossible for them to sit on a freezing floor. We cannot arrange so many benches in one week,” he told UCA News.
The majority of churches constructed during the British era are equipped with pews. Originally meant for British Army officers and their families, they later became part of the local community. However, the later churches simply use carpets.
Churches already display banners for precautions from the virus. Caritas Pakistan has conducted awareness sessions and distributed masks and food for Covid-affected families in churches around the country. A notification of 10 guidelines, posted near the entrance of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore, bans cake cutting inside churches or feasts in church compounds.
In his Christmas message, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore urged all to pray for an end to the outbreak.
“The advent season has spread happiness and hope for good days amid dangers of the pandemic. Let us pray that this Christmas becomes the feast of recovery of public health. May employment opportunities open, a culture of peace begin and our country come out of the present crisis,” he said.
According to Lutheran Bishop Jimmy Mathew of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, almost all Pentecostal churches in Northern Province are carpeted with no benches.
“We are discouraging large gatherings and Christmas fairs in church compounds. Christmas carol services scheduled in the last week of December have been canceled,” he said.
“We agreed to open our doors for ventilation during Christmas Masses despite the winter season. However, a common strategy won’t work. The government should enforce SOPs [standard operating procedures] as per the nature of the district.”
According to the National Command and Operations Centre, the virus claimed 1,073 lives in Pakistan in the first 17 days of December.
The number of Covid-19 cases reached 451,494 after 2,972 new infections were detected in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of National Health Services said. The number of deaths in Pakistan has reached 9,164, it said, adding that 84 people had died in the previous 24 hours.