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EMBASSY, Wednesday, January 15, 2014—2

Diplomacy This Week-Bringing in the Christmas tree

The Pakistani consulate general in Toronto became festive on Dec. 21 when members of the community and government officials gathered to celebrate the holiday season.

But it wasn't just any ordinary gathering—it was the first time that a Christmas celebration was held at the consulate general or embassy in Canada.

Peter Bhatti, chairman of International Christian Voice, said he suggested the Pakistani government take this step to show solidarity with Pakistani-Canadians who are Christian.

Many Pakistani Christians believe the country's blasphemy law has targeted them. "This kind of event is very important," Mr. Bhatti wrote in an email.

"It will help to promote interfaith, harmony, tolerance and help to bring closer the different faith communities."

He said those from different religions have common values for the most part which can allow them to work together.

Pakistani Consul General Mohammad Nafees Zakaria said the purpose of the Dec. 21 event was to create "harmony and cohesion" in the community.

He said it was part of his government's policy to respect the sentiments of members of different faiths within the Pakistani diaspora, which includes a large number of Christians.

"Christians in Pakistan have not only played [an] important role in the creation of Pakistan, but also contributed significantly to the education and socio-economic fields, development and progress of Pakistan, and national politics since the independence," Mr. Zakaria said.

He pointed to steps that have been taken in Pakistan such as the dedication of Aug. 11 as a day to celebrate minorities.

"In Pakistan also people of Christian faith celebrate Christmas with zeal and fervour," Mr. Zakaria said.

He said, however, that today there is dis-cord among people on religious, racial and ethnic grounds.

"Unfortunately, sowing of the seeds of discord is the work of a very small percentage of inferior elements, who exist in every society, every nation and every country," Mr. Zakaria said.

Also in attendance at the event were Andrew Bennett, Canada's ambassador for religious freedom, Conservative Member of Parliament Joe Daniel and members of the community, including Pakistani Muslims. The group sang Christmas carols in English and Urdu, and heard speeches from several attendees.

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