MUMBAI, India – A Christmas rally in Bhopal, India, brought together Christians from all denominations in a show of unity in a region of the country where the Church often faces discrimination.

The Dec. 15 event was inaugurated by the Archbishop of Bhopal, Leo Cornelio, and involved more than 500 people.

Bhopal is the capital city of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, where Christians make up just 0.29 percent of the population.

Cornelio said the rally, which stretched over 5 miles, was meant to share the message of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, and urge people across the country to “become a bridge between God and nature in a joint quest for harmonious coexistence.”

The procession began on the grounds of the Jesuit-run Campion School and passed through significant locations in the city during the two and a half hour rally, which ended at St. Joseph School.

The convoy contained 58 decorated vehicles with a living nativity scene, which the archbishop told Crux “was a powerful and creative way of sharing the Good News of the Birth of Jesus Christ.”

Twenty vehicles carried tableau vivant depicting events related to Christmas, including the Annunciation, the Three Kings, the Nativity, Santa Claus, and a Christmas tree.

“God loved the man so much that He sent His only Son to the world to make us experience the newness of life. The newness begins with the renewal of our personal lives, our relational lives and nature. In every person’s there are three dimensions namely: God, Man and Nature. We often give more importance to God and men and forget the nature,” Cornelio told the gathering.

“Therefore, we need to become a bridge between the above three to avoid eco-imbalance, physical impurity and social division. Christmas unites man, God and nature so that we may live in harmony with three towards an ever-lasting happiness,” he added.

Catholic priests joined leaders of other church denominations as the rally sent out a message of unity. The archbishop and all the pastors jointly cut the Christmas cake as an expression of unity, joy and happiness.

The program ended with the singing of India’s national anthem and the blessing of the archbishop.

“Leaders and pastors of ten different denominations came together to participate in this Christmas rally,” Cornelio told Crux.

“This Christmas rally lasted around two hours and we ended with all the leaders cutting a Christmas cake and thanked all the people, who came from all walks of life, to celebrate the joy and happiness of Christmas,” he continued.

Cornelio also noted that the event met with no opposition from the local authorities.

“We were given all the necessary clearances and permissions from the civic and police authorities to conduct this rally,” the archbishop added.

Madhya Pradesh has seen anti-Christian activity in its past.

In January 2018, Hindu nationalists held a rally outside a Catholic school in the northern Indian state, after the school suspended around 20 students for chanting Hindu nationalist slogans. In July of the same year, clashes took place outside of another Catholic college in the same state after members of a Hindu nationalist student organization tried to force the school to allow them to perform a Hindu religious ritual at the facility.

This year’s Christmas rally comes as the country is experiencing political violence in reaction to a new citizenship bill for refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan, which critics say discriminates against Muslims, who constitute India’s largest religious minority.

Cornelio said the Christmas event was an antidote to these tensions.

“Goodwill, peace and love are very important in the context of the happenings in our country with the unrest due to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, religious hostilities, et cetera. God never loses hope in human beings, and hence the Son of God became as a little baby, in a human family,” the archbishop said.

“Christmas unites man, God and nature so that we live in harmony and everlasting happiness,” he said.

Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.