Opposing Anti-Blasphemy Laws Is Dangerous, Says Aide

Father Lombardi Reflects on Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 6, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Expressing opposition to the anti-blasphemy law in Pakistan could be fatal for both Muslims and Christians, says a Vatican aide.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, said this in the most recent episode of the Vatican television program «Octava Dies» in which he commented on the assassination last week of the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinent, Shahbaz Bhatti.

Bhatti, 42, was shot repeatedly Wednesday as he left his mother’s home in Islamabad. As the Federal Minister for Minorities, he was an outspoken opponent of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which can impose the death penalty for actions judged to insult Mohammed.

He is the second Pakistani official to be murdered for his opposition to the laws in as many months. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province, was killed in early January by his bodyguard.

«Both were killed for the same reason,» said Father Lombarid, «because they opposed the blasphemy law, a law that is itself truly a blasphemy, because in the name of God it causes injustice and death.»

«Both,» he added, «knew well that they were risking their lives, because they were explicitly threatened with death. And nevertheless they did not give up their struggle for religious liberty, against violent fanaticism, and they paid the highest price with their blood.»

Praise for courage

The Jesuit priest then recalled that in Benedict XVI’s address on religious liberty to the diplomatic corps in January, the Pontiff praised the courageous sacrifice of the Muslim Taseer.

Father Lombardi also noted the words of Bhatti, spoken weeks before his assassination: «Pray for me. I am a man who has burned his bridges behind him: I cannot and I do not want to go back on this commitment of mine. I will combat extremism and I will fight in defense of Christians even unto death.»

The Vatican spokesman stated that now the figure of Bhatti «stands tall as that of a valorous witness of faith and justice.»

«While these two assassins fill us with horror and anxiety for the fate of the Christians of Pakistan,» Father Lombardi said, «at the same time we paradoxically also have a spark of hope because a Muslim and a Christian have been joined in the blood [they] spilled for the same cause.»

He continued: «This is no longer just a dialogue of mutual knowledge, or a dialogue in commitment for the common good; from dialogue in life we pass to dialogue of witness in death, to the price of one’s own blood so that the name of God not be distorted as an instrument of injustice.

«In memory of Taseer and Bhatti, in emotional gratitude for how they lived and how they died, the true worshipers of God will continue to struggle — and die if necessary — for religious liberty, justice and peace.»

Christians and Hindus make up only about 5% of Pakistan’s 184 million people. Shia Muslims are also a minority, with Sunni Muslims being 75% of the population.

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