Pakistani Bishops: Can Bhatti Be Called a Martyr?

Prelate Highlights Minister’s Legacy

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MULTAN, Pakistan, MARCH 7, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Pakistani bishops are considering the submission of a formal request to the Holy See to officially recognize Shahbaz Bhatti as a martyr.

Bhatti, 42, the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet, was shot repeatedly Wednesday as he left his mother’s home in Islamabad.

He was an outspoken opponent of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which can impose the death penalty for actions judged to insult Mohammed. These laws are decried by human rights advocates around the world as a method to repress minorities. They garnered international attention again recently due to the death penalty being handed down to a Christian woman, Asia Bibi.

Bhatti 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.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, which will meet March 20-25 for its general assembly in Multan, will examine the proposal to the Holy See for the declaration of Bhatti’s martyrdom, Fides reported.

Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, president of the Episcopal Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, who drafted the proposal, affirmed that «Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ.»</p>

He added, «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 prelate stated that the minister’s death «has been a grave loss, but we Christians in Pakistan want to transform the death of Shahbaz Batti into a prophecy of the Resurrection.»

«We are in pain,» he said, «but we maintain great hope: Bhatti gave his life for his faith.»

Bishop Francis acknowledged, «This is not a new experience for the Church, and we know that his sacrifice will bring abundant fruits for all of us.»

Gospel values

He explained to Fides that Bhatti left a legacy for other Pakistanis: «He was a man who lived to promote the Gospel values, such as compassion, unity, and care for the marginalized. From here our work begins.

«We are called to be compassionate with all people, regardless of faith, race and culture, especially in times of need (as in the recent floods), to give a sign of brotherhood.»

«It’s our job, respecting the memory of Bhatti, to continue to tirelessly promote dialogue as an instrument to understanding and appreciating each other and building peace,» the bishop said.

«In Pakistan it is expressed mainly in Muslim-Christian dialogue,» he added. «In this we are called to send a message to the nation, to build harmony and unity among the Pakistani people.»

The prelate underlined «the strong call for freedom of religion, speech and conscience.»

«Bhatti was inspired by the words of the Holy Father,» Bishop Francis noted. «He had received a personal blessing from the Holy Father and he always had in the forefront of his mind the importance of these values.»

«We will continue to encourage these values at all levels,» the bishop said.

He noted that «Bhatti teaches us, finally, that there should be fruitful cooperation with the government and the civil authorities for the common good of the nation.»

The prelate affirmed, «Looking at the life of Bhatti instills in us greater courage, greater commitment, and a deeper fidelity to the Gospel, to the Pope and to the Church.»

God’s plan

In a memorial Mass on Friday at the church of Our Lady of Fatima in Islamabad, Bishop Rufin Anthony noted that Bhatti «was a man who followed God’s plan in his life.»

The bishop of Islamabad affirmed, «He was a man who did the will of God, with faith, obedience, hope and certainty in the Kingdom.»

The prelate told Fides: «He is a man who gave his life for the faith. I am sure that the Church, in her own time, may proclaim him a martyr.»

Before the funeral, an ecumenical ceremony was held in Kushphur, the minister’s birthplace. It was attended by the Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, other politicians and diplomats, and thousands of Christians.

Bishop Anthony underlined the «very strong spiritual formation» that Bhatti received in his Catholic faith.

«He always asked me to pray for him,» the prelate recalled, «because he was aware that the work in the world, without help from above, is incomplete and cannot bear fruit.»

He added, «Even service in politics, without reference to the faith, remains empty and exposed to the evil one.»

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