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NRIIndian Christian community in Saudi Arabia celebrates Christmas

Indian Christian community in Saudi Arabia celebrates Christmas

Published: 26th Dec 2021 4:39 pm

Riyadh: The Indian Christian expatriate community in Saudi Arabia was overwhelmed and enthusiastic this time when Christmas in Saudi Arabia this year proved to be different from previous ones as the tiny yet powerful professional community became part of Azadi Ka Amrut Mahotsav. They came out in large numbers to celebrate the festival.

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For the first time, the Indian Christian community in Saudi Arabia celebrated Christmas at the Indian consulate in Jeddah as part of Amrut Mahotsav Week. The faithful, some of them coming from far-flung areas, were overjoyed when they witnessed a Santa Claus parade backed by drum corps, brass band and cheer-leading squad.

The cultural programmes performed by different prayer groups thrilled the audience. The birth of Jesus, the nativity scene and other cultural shows by Syro Malabar Church in Jeddah mesmerized people across faiths.

Some prime festivals of other faiths are celebrated at diplomatic missions as community functions.

Christmas in India is a beautiful festival and Christians celebrate it from God’s Own Country, Kerala, to east India, replete with cultural diversity. All such different groups were represented at the event.

Consul General Mohammed Shahid Alam, speaking at the event, emphasized the need to have hope in humanity amidst the shadow cast by Covid-19. “Hope in humanity and the message of brotherhood is the need of the hour which is the message of Christmas.”

He said whenever he visited different provinces and met with high ranking Saudi officials, they all praised the hard-working Indian community, especially nurses. The top diplomat added that nurses working with different patients was a test of god that makes such a positive difference.

“I used to attend Christmas functions at Pakistan Consulate every year and felt different obviously, but for the first time participating in our own Mission, my joy was doubled,” said Vardhanapu John, a native of Panjesha Wali in Hyderabad and a long-time resident if Taif who came to join the event.

The Christmas celebration by Indian expatriates was the concept of young dynamic diplomat Md. Shahid Alam. Celebrating Christmas as a community event in a place like Indian chancery in Saudi Arabia was unimaginable till some time ago. In the past, there were some cases where Christmas day celebrations were prevented and participants were arrested.

It may be noted that in 2014, 28 people including Indian women and children who congregated in Eastern province were arrested by police.

However, sweeping changes in Saudi Arabia and support from young diplomat Shahid Alam made it possible this year.

In a historic visit to the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo in 2018, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Pope Tawadros II, the leader of Coptic Christians. He was welcomed to Saudi Arabia at that time. He also welcomed and met some Christian leaders late in Riyadh.

For the last two years, some shops in major cities have been selling Christmas trees and other decorative items, according to news reports.

The radical shift brought overwhelming joy among the estimated 18 lakh Christians living in the Kingdom, majority of them from India’s Kerala and Philippines. The Christian expatriates who have always had the freedom to practice their faith and rituals were privately hoping for large scale celebrations like others.

The western Christian expatriates living in compounds in Saudi Arabia celebrate Christmas and New Year events more openly than their counterparts from India.

The Indian Christian expatriates are significantly a dominant section in the healthcare field and known for their quality care towards patients and hailed for their commendable services.

The majority of Indian Christians in Saudi Arabia hail from Kerala’s Kottayam and Alappuzha districts where the history of Christianity goes back nearly to the time of Christ. St. Thomas, the apostle of Jesus, arrived in 52 AD in Kerala and baptized locals.

Consul General Shahid Alam formally cut the cake flanked by other senior diplomats. Anil Kumar and Sushila Joseph anchored the event. Kumar Bhore welcomed the audience while Pastor Hanok Abhinav delivered the message, and Nai Joseph proposed a vote of thanks.

Indian Christian Community (ICC) that comprises different Christian groups organized the event with the support of the Indian consulate.

In Riyadh too, a similar function was held at the Indian Embassy. Some dozens of Indian families participated in the event in spite of the cold weather, according to organisers.

Ms. Saroja, a native of Hyderabad, played a key role in the organizing the event in Riyadh.

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