Catholic World News

Prelates in Pakistan, Rome hail Bhatti 'authentic martyr'

March 07, 2011

Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan is calling upon the Church to declare Shahbaz Bhatti a martyr. Bhatti, a Catholic cabinet minister, was assassinated for his opposition to the nation’s blasphemy law.

In Rome, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, agreed that Bhatti died as an “authentic martyr.” Presiding at a suffrage Mass for the slain Pakistani leader, the cardinal revealed that in their last conversation, in November 2010, Bhatti had told him: “I know that I will die assassinated, but I lay down my life for Christ and for inter-religious dialogue.”

During his Angelus audience on Sunday, March 6, Pope Benedict XVI voiced his hope that “the moving sacrifice of the life of the Pakistani minister Shahbaz Bhatti may arouse in people's consciences the courage and commitment to defend the religious freedom of all men.”

“Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Francis. “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 Pakistani bishops will vote on Bishop Francis’s proposal at their March 20-25 meeting.

“We are in pain, but we maintain great hope: Bhatti gave his life for his faith,” the bishop added. “This is not a new experience for the Church, and we know that his sacrifice will bring abundant fruits for all of us.”

Bhatti’s funeral Mass was attended by thousands of Catholics and several government officials, including the nation’s prime minister.

“Shahbaz Bhatti was a man who followed God's plan in his life,” said Archbishop Anthony Rufin of Islamabad at his funeral Mass. “He was a man who did the will of God, with faith, obedience, hope and certainty in the Kingdom.”

After growing up in a Catholic village known as the “Vatican of Pakistan,” Bhatti was “shocked and saddened” by “the harsh reality of the conditions of Christian life in Pakistan, marked by suffering, discrimination, and destitution,” the archbishop recalled.

“His social and political work [was] always lived out in serving the common good and as a testimony of faith in Christ,” the archbishop continued. “In this service, Bhatti did the will of God, he adhered to the project of life that the Lord had for him.”

“He always asked me to pray for him, because he was aware that the work in the world, without help from above, is incomplete and can not bear fruit,” Archbishop Rufin added. “Even service in politics, without reference to the faith, remains empty and exposed to the Evil One.”

“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.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops lamented Bhatti’s assassination.

“Mr. Bhatti promoted interfaith dialogue with the goal of advancing religious tolerance within the broader Pakistani society,” said Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York, chairman of the bishops’ committee on international justice and peace. “Now, his courageous voice has been tragically silenced.”

“We urge the United States to work in partnership with the government of Pakistan to ensure that concrete steps are taken to protect the human rights and religious freedom of all its citizens, including vulnerable minorities.”

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  • Posted by: Jason C. - Mar. 07, 2011 1:08 PM ET USA

    The politician aspect of this reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Moreno. All ye holy martyrs, pray for us.