Pakistan's Railways and Human Rights ministries plan to run a special train over Christmas to express solidarity with the minority Christian community and promote inter-faith harmony. State-run APP news agency quoted unnamed officials saying that the special "human rights train" would be the first rail service run to celebrate a minority festival. It will depart from Islamabad on Dec. 22.
Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and Federal Minister for Human Rights Kamran Michael, who is the only non-Muslim minister in the cabinet, will see the train off. It will reach Peshawar the same day before leaving for Rawalpindi on Dec. 23. It will travel to Lahore on the final leg of its journey, on Dec. 24. The train will consist of five carriages decorated with messages of religious tolerance, brotherhood and love.
Minister Kamran Michael told the Daily Times that the Christian community was an equal partner in the struggle for ensuring sustained development, stability, security and solidarity in Pakistan. He said the special train would highlight the role of Christians in the creation of the country. He added that the Constitution of Pakistan grants non-Muslims the freedom to observe their religions.
Father Qaiser Feroz, executive secretary of the Pakistani bishops' social communications commission, welcomed the first Christmas train in Pakistan. "It is a unique initiative to boost the campaign for harmony and peace. We only had such trains on Eid and other special occasions in the past. It is a powerful message to extremists who do not tolerate followers of other religions. The government should think of more ways to endorse religious harmony," he told ucanews.com.
Father James Channan, regional coordinator of the United Religions Initiative Pakistan, said it was an admirable gesture. "I congratulate the ministers who have doubled Christian joy. The messages they plan to display on the train are the teachings of Jesus Christ. I just hope they give discounts to passengers who want to spend these holidays with their loved ones," said the Dominican priest who is organizing an interfaith celebration in Lahore this Sunday. "There is a great need to promote the message of religious harmony at present: when terrorism and hate prevail," he added.