Pakistan launched a special Christmas train to carry a message of goodwill and cheer around the country. The train was decorated in an appropriately-festive fashion, intended to promote tolerance of Pakistan’s minority communities. Minister for Human Rights Kamran Michael and Minister for Railways Saad Rafique jointly opened the peace train for its departure from Islamabad on December 22.
More than 20 of the Chibok schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram, who were released in October, were reunited with their families for Christmas. This will be the first Christmas spent at home since their capture in April 2014.
In the Iraqi town Bartella, just liberated from the Islamic State, Christmas mass was celebrated for the first time in two years. Hundreds of Christians currently living in refugee camps in the Kurdish city Erbil came to Bartella for Christmas. Worshippers packed into the damaged Mart Shmony Church.
Worshippers thronged to St. Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, despite police foiling a terrorist plot to bomb the church. Australian security services arrested seven people and charged them with planning a terrorist attack, targeted at Flinders Street Station, Federation Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Those visiting the church included three imams who came in solidarity. “There was a steady stream of people coming in and out of the cathedral and in the end I had to come out and give the final blessing to people on the forecourt,” the dean of St Paul’s, Dr Andreas Loewe, told The Guardian.
Thousands of pilgrims and tourists flocked to Bethlehem this year, as every year, to worship at the birthplace of Jesus. Bethlehem, once majority Christian city, has like other areas of the Arab world, shifted demographically and the Christian population is emigrating, stifled by an increasingly assertive Islamic cultural presence in the city and persecution that the community faces from Islamist groups like Hamas, which operates in the city. The Christian population in Bethlehem dropped from 86% to 12% over the past 60 years.
A terrorist attack at a Catholic mass in the Philippines wounded 16 people on Christmas Eve when a terrorist threw a grenade outside St. Nino Church in Mindanao.