–– Sito di FORMAZIONE PERMANENTE MISSIONARIA –– Uno sguardo missionario sulla Vita, il Mondo e la Chiesa A missionary look on the life of the world and the church –– VIDA y MISIÓN – VIE et MISSION – VIDA e MISSÃO ––
One million people were present at the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who killed governor Salman Taseer. They are the image of Pakistan, as the country commemorates the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic minister of minorities who was killed on 2 March 2011 in Islamabad. A concurrence of events that represents the two faces of a country besieged by terrorism and radicalism which is nevertheless trying to react by clinging onto the examples of Christian and Muslim leaders committed to the common good.
A body guard-turned-assassin, Qadri betrayed the man he was supposed to be defending, killing him in cold blood because he considered him to be a “blasphemer”. As a result, Taseer’s death sentence was confirmed in the final stage of his trial and he was finally hanged. His only crime was having taken Christian woman Asia Bibi’s case to heart. The innocent woman has been sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy.
Today, the emergence of parties and extremist Islamic groups is whipping up a collective fervour: in this climate of excitement, declarations are being made about a shrine being built in honour of Qadri, “the blasphemy hero”. But set against this is the rule of law: last November, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that those who criticise the blasphemy law cannot in any way whatsoever be considered “blasphemous”. Taseer had simply sought to prevent the death of an innocent woman who was accused as a result of the improper use of that law.
The same fate was met by Shabhaz Bhatti, a Catholic who had dedicated his life, faith and socio-political efforts to bringing about reconciliation, serving the common good and devoting himself to the emancipation and advancement of the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable, including Christians who form a small minority, making up just 2% of the Pakistani population. Bhatti also did all he could for Asia Bibi and was meant to deliver a report on the case of former president Ali Zardari but the document never came.
Bhatti has always seen political activity as a “mission and service”, the expression of an authentic faith, grounded in evangelical advice which made him a sort of “consecrated layperson” or an “oblate”: this is according to Bishop Anthony Lobo, his spiritual father, in a posthumous document that will be sent to the diocese of Islamabad, where the local Church has officially started to gather evidence for the canonical process in view of a diocesan enquiry which could lead the Church to declare Bhatti a martyr.
“He is our hero. We need people like him today,” says Fr. Shahzad Khokher, who was involved in the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops of Pakistan in an interview with Vatican Insider. Ashiq Masih, Asia Bibi’s husband, expressed his gratitude for the man’s sacrifice: “He gave his life for Asia Bibi.”
On 1 March, Pakistan’s Christians gathered in the Islamabad-Rawalpindi cathedral to celebrate a mass in Bhatti’s memory and remember his martyrdom. The Church was surrounded by barbed wire, a regular sight when it comes to non-Muslim buildings in the country.
On 2 March, the anniversary of Bhatti’s death, Christian and Muslim political and religious leaders commemorated his efforts in achieving equality. Bhatti had worked to get the Christian community of Pakistan out of the ghetto of discrimination and to achieve its full integration into the national social, cultural and political fabric. He was an emblematic figure of this vision and objective, which involved a commitment to dialogue, peace and justice.
The country’s future is at stake here. If institutions such as the government and the judiciary manage – partly with support from the military – to steer a straight course on legality and rule of law, resisting pressure from extremists, Pakistan has a hope of defeating terrorism, which has claimed the lives of 50,000 victims in 10 years, a world record.
The trial for the punishment of those guilty of Bhatti’s murder will also be telling. A month ago, the trial was transferred to a special military tribunal that deals with terrorist crimes.