“We give thanks to God for having placed an authentic martyr in our path, a witness to Christian faith, who was able to ‘say’ and ‘do’. Shahbaz Bhatti is a reminder that in the Cross we find true hope: the Cross propels us to give our lives for others.”
So said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue, celebrating a Memorial Mass in Rome on Sunday, March 6, 2011, for Shahbaz Bhatti, the late Federal Minister for Minorities’ affairs, who was assassinated in Islamabad on March 2, 2011.
The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) media cell told ANS that the Eucharist, organized by Pakistani Christians in Italy, was celebrated at the Pontifical College of St Peter the Apostle, in the presence of a large community of priests, seminarians, religious sisters and lay people from Pakistan, “in an atmosphere of prayer and sincere emotion.”
The Cardinal said, “To be Christian is always to make a choice: between light and darkness, between faith and law, between life and death, between God revealed by Jesus and the wisdom of men, between serving and ruling.”
He went on to described Bhatti in his “bright life” saying that he had “chosen Christ as Savior… and every human being as a brother. His life was and will always be a life given, a sacrifice offered to God. As he desired, we can find him at the foot of the Cross of Jesus.”
The Cardinal cited a sentence of the Minister’s spiritual testament in which Bhatti said, “I do not want positions of power. I just want a place at Jesus’ feet,” and he then invited the congregation to be “taken by the hand of our friend Shahbaz Bhatti” and to “follow him to the Cross of Jesus.”
He added: “The Cross means that God is always greater than us and, above all, that life is stronger than death. Shahbaz Bhatti was able to say, ‘I no longer have any words to say. I dedicate my life to Jesus!’ He shared with many in Pakistan that Christian love does not exclude anyone.”
The Cardinal also recalled his visit to Pakistan in November 2010, confiding that Minister Bhatti had told me, “I know that they will kill me. I offer my life for Christ and for inter-religious dialogue.”
In concluding his homily, Cardinal Tauran offered a “message of communion in faith, hope and charity to all our Catholic brothers and sisters in Pakistan.”
Finally, he quoted Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the World Day of Peace 2011, in which he called on “the leaders of the great religions of the world and leaders of nations to renew their commitment to the promotion and protection of religious freedom, particularly for the protection of religious minorities.”
Members of a delegation from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who attended the Mass, also expressed their condolences to the Catholic community in Pakistan and asked the Pakistani government to prosecute those guilty of the murder, to protect religious minorities, to work for the protection of human rights, religious freedom and the rule of law in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, according to the Fides news agency, the Catholic bishops of Pakistan will consider a proposal to ask the Vatican to declare assassinated Pakistani minister Shahbaz Bhatti a martyr.
“Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ,” Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, who drafted the proposal, told Fides news agency. “It is up to us, the Bishops, to tell his story and experience to the Church in Rome, to call for official recognition of his martyrdom.”
The country’s bishops’ conference will consider the proposal during its general assembly in Multan from March 20 to 25.
A “martyr,” from the Greek word meaning “witness,” is someone who dies for the faith. A declaration of martyrdom would mean a miracle would not be required for Bhatti’s possible beatification, although to be canonized as a saint a miracle would be required.
Masked men murdered Bhatti, the minister for religious minorities, on the streets of Islamabad as he left his mother’s home for a cabinet meeting on March 2. He was a leading voice for religious freedom and peace and the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet.
Al-Qaida and the Punjab-based Pakistani Taliban Movement claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s killing, according to the AP.
“His murder was especially momentous coming after the Jan. 4 assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Both men were critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which impose death sentences or life imprisonment for acts of disrespect for Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an,” said the Fides news agency.
In a video he recorded to be released upon his death, Bhatti stated: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of ‘cross,’ and I follow Him to the cross.”