In the formerly Hindu nation of Nepal, religious tension and persecution still exist in rural areas. But Christmas is bringing interfaith celebration in the capital.
Since the government made Christmas a national holiday in 2011, December has become a festive time not only for the tiny Christian minority that makes up roughly 1.4 percent of the population, but also for Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims, according to Asia News. In Kathmandu, businesses of all kinds are decorated for the holiday celebration, and cards of Jesus and Mary are popular in gift shops.
Some Hindus voluntarily helped decorate Kathmandu’s Cathedral of the Assumption. The Rev. Robin Rai told Asia News they are even “teaching young people Christmas carols to accompany the festivities.”
Voice of the Martyrs media development director Todd Nettleton said even though the government’s reasons for the national holiday were commercial, “it’s an opportunity for ministry. Because any time that we’re celebrating Christmas we have an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, do you know what Christmas is about?’”
“It’s a heartwarming thing,” he added.
Prior to becoming a secular democracy in 2006, Nepal was the only Hindu monarchy in the world. Secularization has allowed other religions to grow. Nettleton said the change meant government persecution of Christians lessened, but Christians still face family and village pressure, especially in rural areas.
At times Hindu extremists still target churches. In May 2009, a member of the Nepal Defence Army planted a bomb that killed two people and injured 13 at a Kathmandu cathedral, Asia News said. Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic charity, reported that Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims all met together to pray following that attack.
In November, Morning Star News reported a Hindu who had asked for prayer killed a Christian church elder, Debalal Sardar, by striking him with a rod and then slitting his throat and other parts of his body.
Bishop Narayan Sharma, senior leader of Gospel for Asia’s work in Nepal, told Morning Star News, “It was a purely anti-Christian act. … The attacker told his wife that he was going to kill more Christians after he killed Debalal.”
The Nepali constitution protects the right to practice religion, but not absolute freedom. Proselytizing is banned and punishable, according to the 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom. Nettleton said that ban presents a challenge for Christian non-governmental organizations that are allowed to work in Nepal.