“Shahbaz Bhatti was a man of profound faith and a fearless leader. He had received death threats and whoever advised him to emigrate, he said: I am a disciple of Christ, I will never abandon my country and my people. He was always active in trying to create awareness among the poor and the voiceless, supporting them and defending their cause. At any time or place in which injustice was committed, he tried to become a spokesman of those who suffered and the persecuted.”
This is how Fr. Emmanuel Parvez, the parish priest in Faisalabad, in Pakistani Punjab, recalled the Pakistani in a conversation with Fides News Agency on the eighth anniversary of his killing, which took place on March 2, 2011, in Islamabad.
In Pakistan there are two commemorative celebrations scheduled for the occasion, organized by the “All Pakistan Minorities Alliance” (APMA) and by the NGO “Mission Shahbaz”, initiated by Paul Bhatti, Shahbaz’ brother: one on March 3 in Kushpur, the native village; one in Islamabad, with civil and religious personalities.
Fr. Parvez, a native of the same village of Bhatti, recalled: “He received death threats but was determined to continue his mission and said that he would never abandon the poor and the persecuted”. With this spirit, Bhatti defended the Christian Asia Bibi, unjustly accused of blasphemy in 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010, then acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2018. The commitment in the latter case cost him his life.
“The acquittal of Asia Bibi,” continued the priest, “is a sign of hope because it is a victory of truth and justice, and the sacrifice of Shahbaz’s commitment was not in vain. Christians live and work so that Pakistan does not succumb to extremism and terrorism, in the hope that throughout the nation the awareness of being able to change the blasphemy law will grow, so that it does not lend itself to abuses that affect and cause innocent suffering, of all religious communities.”