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Post-flood Christmas in Kashmir to be a somber affair

Srinagar's century-old church remains in tatters as Catholics prepare for an austere holiday

Umar Shah, Srinagar

Umar Shah, Srinagar

Published: December 23, 2014 06:40 AM GMT

Updated: December 22, 2014 07:19 PM GMT

Post-flood Christmas in Kashmir to be a somber affair

A view of the water-damaged interior of Holy Family Catholic Church in Srinagar district (Photo by Umar Shah)

Christians in flood-affected Srinagar district in Kashmir say they will celebrate a simple Christmas this year as their Church has yet to be reopened after a devastating flood killed more than 450 people and affected millions more in September.

The 128-year-old Holy Family Catholic Church, which serves 50 Catholic families in the district, remains damp after flooding inundated it on September 6.

Tens of thousands of people were left stranded in September when floods and landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains devastated parts of Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan’s neighboring Punjab province.

“We are not celebrating Christmas this year. There will be simple prayers held in a room adjacent to the Church, which has yet to be reopened. It needs a lot of restoration,” said Fr Mathew Thomas, the local parish priest.

The priest added that his parishioners have little motivation to be festive this year, and the region still has a pressing need for support from the government, which he says has yet to send a representative to visit the flood-affected areas.

“I have been discharged from my duties here after decades of service. This is unfortunate because for the first time in my life the Christmas celebrations will not be held here,” said Rashid Ahmad of Srinagar, who has worked as a sweeper in the Church for more than 30 years.

Fr Thomas said most of the Catholic families lost their homes in the flooding and relocated to distant towns.

Maryam Shammi, a parishioner whose home was damaged in the flooding, said she and her family will spend this Christmas offering simple prayers for those in need instead of celebrating with friends.

“We used to invite our Muslim friends for Christmas lunch, but this year no such celebrations will occur,” she said.

Meanwhile a parliamentary committee report on Monday criticized Kashmir state authorities for failing to adequately warn residents of the impending disaster.

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The parliamentary committee report also instructed the federal government no “not shrug off its responsibility” in rebuilding flood-hit areas and provide “requisite financial assistance”.

Kashmir has asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government for 440 billion rupees (US$6.3 billion) for repairing the flood damage.

Additional reporting by AFP.

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