Pakistani Christians call for Shahbaz Bhatti to be canonised

Five years after his death, Pakistani Christians and the Church of Pakistan are clamoring for Shahbaz Bhatti to be canonised.

A request unanimously signed by the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference arrived in Rome just after his murder. The Holy See has approved the opening of an investigation to be conducted by the Bishop of the diocese in which the martyrdom  happened, that of Islamabad-Rawalpindi. Unfortunately, however, the diocese has been vacant for over two years.

A document signed by the spiritual father of Shahbaz Bhatti, Bishop Anthony Lobo, bishop emeritus of Islamabad-Rawalpindi stated that a few years before his death Shahbaz had become a consecrated layman. He had also chosen to give up having a family to advance his cause: “A decision was taken because he was aware that he could be killed. But he was an extremely sunny and positive person. He was only saddened by the persecutions and discrimination against religious minorities”.

Prof Shahid Mobeen, professor of Islamic thought and religion at the Pontifical Lateran University and a friend of the murdered Pakistani Minister, describes the current situation of religious minorities five years after the murder of Bhatti: “After the death of Shahbaz Bhatti the condition of religious minorities in Pakistan has deteriorated markedly, both regarding the highest number of attacks against them and the lack of representation at the federal level.”

Shahbaz Bhatti was the first and only federal minister for religious minorities. After his death on  2 March 2011 at the hands of fundamentalists, the ministry was downgraded to a mere department of the Ministry for Religious Affairs. “In this way, neither Christians nor other non-Muslims have any political representation. The only Christian federal minister is the one for navigation, which has no direct influence on the condition of religious minorities.”

Bhatti had devoted his life to the cause of defending the rights of non-Muslims, which was why in 2008 he had accepted the post of federal minister. “He agreed only because he wanted minorities to contribute to the growth of the country. Unfortunately in Pakistan the exercise of power of non-Muslim citizens is prevented even at the legislative level.”

The main battlefield of the late Catholic minister Bhatti was against the abuse of so-called anti-blasphemy laws, the rules corresponding to some articles of the Pakistan Penal Code which punish with life imprisonment those who profane the Koran and with the death penalty those who insult the Prophet Mohammed. “When the case of Asia Bibi, for whose liberation Shahbaz had worked so hard, exploded internationally, the then President Zardari appointed him chairman of the committee for the revision of the blasphemy law. He was developing measures that would limit the misuse of the norm. But unfortunately his murderers, maybe Taliban, have not allowed him. “

ACN Malta