MIRI: More than 30,000 people started their Christmas celebrations in Miri early by staging a grand Christmas Parade, demonstrating unity and harmony in this joyous season.
The Miri City Fan Recreational Park was a hive of activity when people from all walks of life gathered and later proceeded to the streets of Miri to show what it means to be able to peacefully co-exist in a society made up of people from different religions.
Miri, a city with a population of 350,000, is the most racially-diverse urban centre in the state and country.
The Christmas Parade, which began on Saturday night and went on into the early hours of Sunday, is an annual event organised by Miri City Council together with the 15 different churches in Miri.
State Minister for Communications Datuk Michael Manyin, before flagging off the parade, told the crowd that in Sarawak, the people can live harmoniously without any racial or religious misunderstandings because in this state, politics and religions do not mix and not used as campaign ammunition for political causes.
“Christmas brings forth the message of peace and goodwill to mankind. It is thus fitting that Miri stages such a grand public celebration like this Christmas Parade because the state of Sarawak epitomises peace and goodwill.
“This genuine peace and acceptance in Sarawak is made possible because we do not mix race and religion with politics,” he said.
State Assemblyman for Senadin Datuk Lee Kim Shin, who is also Sarawak United People’s Party vice- president, said Miri has churches, mosques and temples built close to each other, and they even share their parking lots and graveyards.
“All religions teach us to do good. This Christmas Parade theme — “Emmanuel, God is with us” — is indeed most appropriate as this is the spirit of the city,” he said.
Miri Mayor Lawrence Lai called on the rest of the country to come and learn from Miri.
He said that there are more than 30 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups and races living within Miri, including thousands of expatriates, and there has never been any racial or religious disputes.
“Malays, Christians, Buddhists and those from other faiths live together in close proximity, sometimes even under one roof.
“We can see Muslims and non-Muslims sharing food at the same table. That is the meaning of true harmony and acceptance.
“In the Peninsula states, we have seen many instances in recent times of religious and racial controversies that had caused rifts because of the work of religious extremists.
“Those with extreme and radical intents should come to Miri and see how we live and maybe they will have a change of heart and mind,” said Lai.
Politicians from all parties, community leaders and leaders from all the churches, including the head of Miri Catholic diocese, Bishop Richard Ng, took part in the parade.