Christians Hold Open-Air Musical Program To Celebrate Country´s New Religious Freedom

2006-07-03 00:00:00

An outdoor Christian musical program in the capital reminded Nepalese Christians that they are now free to sing, dance and express their faith as openly as they wish.

The three-hour "Valley-wide Good News Musical Program," organized by the National Churches Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN), was held July 1 at the Khula Manch open-air stage in the center of Kathmandu. The NCFN, comprised of 1,200 churches, is the country´s largest Protestant Church network.

The new religious freedom in Nepal is due to its emergence as a secular state following a May 18 declaration in parliament. On that day, after several months of political turmoil, parliament approved a set of decisions that converted Nepal into a secular state and stripped King Gyanendra Shah of his absolute power. Until then, Nepal had been the world´s only Hindu state.

Almost all of the few thousand people who attended the musical program had to remain standing, since virtually no chairs were to be found. Even then, the space under the six colorful tents erected on the grounds was filled before the program began. Organizers estimated the crowd was at least 25 percent "Christian," but the Nepali-language performances, some by well-known local singers who sat at the back of the stage waiting their turn to sing, attracted many other people too.

As volunteers -- young girls and boys -- tried to control the crowd, rain fell heavily for five minutes just after the program started. A fast-paced hymn was sung by a row of girls during the downpour while people crowded under the tents or under their umbrellas. Some young and even some elderly people danced in the rain shouting "Amen" or "God is great." The sun soon returned.

Amid hymns, songs with biblical themes and dancing by various tribal groups in traditional attire, Pastor Simon Pandey affirmed local Christians´ newfound confidence. "Nepal´s Christian community has taken the recent declaration that Nepal is secular as a historic call. We know now we are free to hold religious programs like this owing to the sacrifice of many, including the 21 who were killed in street protests. We will continue to fight against superstition and for full human rights for all Nepalese," the NCFN secretary said.

Above the stage were reminders of the recent unrest: Maoist "red" posters and other posters with pictures of some of the 21 people who were killed in the street protests in April. "Righteousness Exalts a Nation: Holy Bible ... Musical Cultural Program," proclaimed a big cloth banner.

After professional singer Loreto Singh, a Catholic, sang a hymn to the accompaniment of prerecorded music, Christian songs were sung in folk-music style accompanied by sarangi, a Nepalese violin, and madal, a hand-held drum. Christian groups also sang patriotic songs carried over a sound system.

"Now that we have the freedoms of speech and the press, we Christians feel it our responsibility to make our religion not just known but deeply known," Mangalman Maharjan, pastor of Patan Church of southern Kathmandu, told the gathering.

Some pastors led the crowd in prayers of praise with raised hands, singing words such as, "Lord Jesus you are in my house, even though I have a roof of khar (straw) and eat only kodo ko dedho (lumps of millet)."

Pastor Tek Chettri, a local Christian writer, recounted with interesting details his experience of conversion as an adult. "When I was in New York I was introduced in a church as having come from the continent of Jesus´ birth."

He explained how Christianity had nothing to do with taking revenge, violence or starting wars. Such mistaken labels were put on Christianity, he said, because countries claimed a Christian heritage while they were disregarding basic, peaceful Biblical norms.

Flora Rai, leader of the women´s group of Assumption Parish, which covers Kathmandu, attended the musical program along with other Catholics. "It was interesting to see dances performed by Christians from various Churches wearing traditional costumes. These include symbols of Hindu and Buddhist cultures, so it is good to see that the Protestant Christians are opening up to this type of symbolism," she told UCA News.

Religions are gaining public recognition in other forums too.

Jesuit Monsignor Anthony Sharma, apostolic prefect of Nepal, spoke on behalf of Christianity at an interreligious talk and discussion program held June 24 in Kathmandu City Hall by Sathya Sai, Nepal´s branch of the followers of contemporary Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba, whom they consider a godman.

The interreligious group Shanti Shanti Sangh is sponsoring another forum being organized for July 11. It has been doing most of its planning at the Jesuit residence of St. Xavier´s High School in Kathmandu.


(Accompanying photos available at here)

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