Shahbaz Bhatti - Martyr of faith

  • December 20, 2011

The Catholic News Service, which provides The Register with Vatican reports and international news, has named Pope Benedict XVI the top newsmaker of 2011.  There is no disputing that  Benedict dominated Catholic headlines as he passed his fifth anniversary as pontiff with another year of tireless service and faithful ministry. But in terms of a Catholic person of the year we respectfully nominate the Pakistan martyr Shahbaz Bhatti.

Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister of minorities, was ambushed on his doorstep on March 2 because he lived openly as a Catholic in a hostile anti-Christian environment. He died because following in Christ’s footsteps compelled him to denounce his country’s detestable blasphemy laws and defend a Christian woman condemned to death on trumped-up blasphemy charges.

That woman, Asia Bibi, a 45-year old mother of five, remains locked in a high-security prison in Punjab. She was sentenced to hanging after several Muslim women, with whom Bibi had argued, accused her of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies.

Bhatti championed for Bibi’s release and advocated for repeal of the blasphemy laws. For that, Muslim extremists threatened to behead him. Yet he stood firm and ultimately died because he took to heart Christ’s words that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for another.

A Catholic of profound faith, Bhatti predicted his murder while visiting Canada four weeks before the gunman struck. One month before that, Punjab governor Salmann Taseer had been assassinated by his own bodyguard after calling for Bibi’s release. Bhatti knew his own death was imminent unless he renounced his Christian principles and abandoned his fight. Yet he never wavered.

“I was struck by how resigned he was about his expected martyrdom,” said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney after Bhatti’s death.

Sadly, Bhatti was just one among thousands of Christians killed in 2011 because of their faith. There is no global ledger to calculate the scale of Christian persecution. But the European bishops conference estimates that 75 per cent of the world’s religious persecution targets Christians, striking at 100 million people in dozens of countries. The most dangerous places, in addition to Pakistan, are Asian nations such as China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, many Middle East nations, particularly Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and several African nations including Egypt, Nigeria and Sudan.

Most victims of religious-based attacks are anonymous Christians in far-off places whose anguish is hardly noticed elsewhere. Bhatti’s unwavering faith and, ultimately, his death epitomized their plight. By heeding Christ’s call to take up a cross and follow Him, Bhatti gave face and voice to the courageous struggle of those Christians.

He became a martyr to the faith, a symbol of the oppressed and an inspiration to us all.

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