Updated: December 23, 2021 10:15:23 pm
With Christmas around the corner, a dozen people gathered in Srinagar on Wednesday and offered prayers inside the 125-year-old St Luke’s Church — for the first time in over three decades.
With less than 1,000 Christians in the Kashmir Valley according to official estimates, St Luke’s Church was shut down for prayers before the onset of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.
“We still maintained a library and people used to come and read there. But this was for the first time since the 1980s that prayers were held here and the church bells rang,” Father Eric, who is a part of the church, told The Indian Express.
The church is being revamped with a budget of Rs 90 lakh as a Srinagar Smart City project under the Centre’s Smart Cities Mission. “But there is still some work pending. There are no seating or heating arrangements in place yet. So there will be no Christmas mass this year. Hopefully, we will have the mass next year,” Father Eric said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Athar Amir Khan, Commissioner, Srinagar Municipal Corporation, who is also CEO of the Smart City project, said: “Under the project, we have heritage conservation as a component. We have put everything in place. The furniture is also ready but the floor is a bit wet. It will all be done by tomorrow.”
Situated in the foothills of Koh-e-Sulaiman or Shankaracharya hill, St Luke’s Church was built in 1896 by Dr Arthur Neve and his younger brother Dr Ernest Neve, who were with a missionary hospital that mainly provided treatment to TB patients.
The hospital and the church were built by British engineers. In the 1960s, the doctors handed over the hospital to the J-K government. “The main reason for the closure (in the 1980s) was that the Christian hospital staff moved out of the Valley,” Father Eric said.
The church remained abandoned for decades until 2016 when the Christian community approached the J&K administration. The renovation work was started last year, halted for a while due to the pandemic, and restarted a few months ago.
On Thursday, J-K Lt Governor Manoj Sinha e-inaugurated the relaunch. “Reopening of St Luke’s Church in Srinagar after restoration is a historic occasion to celebrate and imbibe Lord Christ’s message of sacrifice, service, redemption, love and compassion,” Sinha said. “The St Luke’s Church is a unique symbol of J&K’s composite culture.”
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