Pakistan's Bishops Mark Year Since Bhatti's Murder

«His Martyrdom Will Not Be in Vain»

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ROME, MARCH 2, 2012 ( A year after Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination, initiatives are multiplying in Pakistan in his memory and to keep the battle alive. Bhatti, 42, a Catholic and Minister for Religious Minorities of the Islamabad government, was shot 30 times on March 2, 2011.

His main «crime» was his opposition to the anti-blasphemy law, for which another Pakistani Christian, Asia Bibi — whose defense Bhatti undertook publicly — was, and still is, sentenced to death.

According to the Fides agency, the Asian director of Amnesty International, Sam Zafiri, has accused the Pakistani government of remaining inert in face of the escalation of violence and Muslim fanaticism, of which both Christians and Muslims are victims.

In 2009, recalled Zafiri, the Islamabad executive committed itself to the review of «dangerous laws for religious harmony»: a promise that remained a dead letter.

NGOs such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance have called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry on the Bhatti crime, so that the investigations «will come to a satisfactory conclusion,» in addition to clarifying «that the State of Law still means something in Pakistan.»

Statements against the anti-blasphemy law are also being made by the US Commission on International Religious Liberty and by the NGO Human Rights First. The latter stressed in particular the «pressures» with which extremist groups obtained the withdrawal of the proposals for modification of the law, in particular those that reinforced the «legal requisites for trials,» punishing anyone who presented «false accusations of blasphemy.»

Shahbas Bhatti wrote in his spiritual testament: «I want to serve Jesus, as an ordinary man» and «I want to live for Christ and I want to die for Him.» And he stressed that he had refused important administrative posts, offered to him at the price of abandoning his battle in defense of religious minorities.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Paul Bhatti, brother of the murdered Minister and special adviser of the Pakistani Premier, said that he was hopeful, despite the genuine siege to which Christians are subjected in their country.

«Who would have imagined it: there is a desire in young people to follow my brother’s example, they are inspired by his image,» said Paul Bhatti.

In the meantime, the Pakistani Episcopal Conference is awaiting a response from the Holy See about the request to begin the procedure to declare Shahbaz Bhatti a martyr of the Christian faith. Next Sunday the issue will be addressed in the course of the Annual Assembly of the Episcopal Conference in Lahore.

«His figure is particularly significant for young people, who are determined to give genuine witness of faith in Christ, following Bhatti’s example,» Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, president of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of the Episcopal Conference, told Fides.

Bishop Francis referred to Bhatti as a martyr, whose death «will not be in vain,» since his memory will give fruit in evangelization,

«As bishops we are putting it in the right perspective, the evangelical, of faith and of hope,» added the prelate. «If the grain of wheat does not die, it does not bear fruit.»

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