THOUSANDS of Christians celebrated Christmas yesterday in multiple services held in churches across the sultanate.
Head of the Catholic Church in Brunei Bishop Cornelius Sim said about 4,000 out of the 18,000 estimated Catholics in the country attended mass on Christmas Day and the night prior at the Church of Our Lady Assumption (COLA) in the capital, Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Seria and St John’s Church in Kuala Belait.
The bishop and an Anglican reverend told The Brunei Times that despite international media outlets reporting a blanket ban on Christmas – which continued to be observed as a public holiday in Brunei this year – neither received a notice restricting celebrations.
“To be quite honest there has been no change for us this year; no new restrictions have been laid down, although we fully respect and adhere to the existing regulations that our celebrations and worship be confided to the compounds of the church and private residences,” said Bishop Sim.
In practice, he said the church has continued its observation of daily dawn services beginning at 4am to 5am and lasting about 45 minutes from December 16 up until Christmas Eve with no restrictions. A social gathering for migrant workers at the COLA church was hosted yesterday evening, mirrored by a similar celebration in Seria.
The bishop also echoed Pope Francis’s address on reconciliation within fractured communities experiencing violence around the world, saying that Brunei was fortunate and in a unique position to have seen unhindered peace and prosperity.
“In my experience, the authorities are respectful and considerate towards other religious communities. In comparison to what is seen elsewhere in the world, we are fortunate to have religious harmony.
“Tolerance is part of our country’s constitution and we have always been free to practise our religion,” he said.
He added that the Catholic community, which makes up the majority of the Christian population in Brunei, “were no different” from any other citizen or resident.
Similarly Reverend Johnny Chin of St Andrew’s Church said relationships between the country’s Muslims and those from other faiths continue to be positive, with the restrictions on Christmas decorations in public which made headlines last year not diluting the true meaning of Christmas to Christians.
“I guess with regards to Christmas, we have reminded ourselves to remain focused on how Christmas is not just about the music, the decorations and the Santa hats – which have been emphasised – but that has never been what Christmas is about anyway,” he said.
The Brunei Times
Saturday, December 26, 2015