Packed church remembers the martyr Shahbaz Bhatti

  • April 18, 2011
Shabhaz Bhatti's brother, Peter, spoke of his family's shock and grief. He believes 'Pakistan has lost its Martin Luther King'.TORONTO - The life of slain Pakistan minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti is an inspiration to all Christians to live in the footsteps of Jesus, said Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins at an April 16 Memorial Mass at St. Andrew's Catholic Church.

"We look to the example of great heroes like Shahbaz Bhatti to show us the way, to share the light of Christ by what they say, how they live and their life of sacrifice," Collins told about 1,800 people, including some politicians and members of the Pakistani community from different faith groups, who packed the church.

The challenge is "not to be complacent but be inspired" by Bhatti's martyrdom, he said.

Bhatti was gunned down on March 2 by Taliban militants who claimed responsibility for the assassination because of Bhatti's vocal opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Bhatti spoke out against religious discrimination and openly supported the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy. He said the blasphemy laws are being used to prosecute innocent people from minority religious groups in the country.

After the Mass, a video presentation of Bhatti's work and the threats against his life was presented to the audience. In a videotaped interview, Bhatti reveals that despite these threats, he continued his campaign against the blasphemy laws to "speak on behalf of the oppressed."

"I believe in Jesus Christ. I know what is the meaning of the cross and I am a follower of the cross. I am ready to die for the cross," he said.

Bhatti's brother, Peter, shared the family's shock and grief.

"Pakistan has lost its Martin Luther King," he said. To his right stood a photo of his brother shaking hands with Pope Benedict XVI and a tall banner which read, "Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti, we salute your great sacrifice."

Peter said the focus of his brother's work was "the struggle for human dignity and religious freedom."

"He loved the idea of interfaith harmony and tolerance," Peter said, appealing for prayers and support in Bhatti's mission for peace.

The family often worried about Bhatti's safety but Bhatti reassured them that he trusted in God's call for him to help those who were persecuted. Peter recalled his brother's words: "I have put my life in Jesus' hands. My brother, don't worry,"

Meanwhile, a friend of Bhatti recalled the Easter message of hope and resurrection: “They can always kill the dreamer but no one can kill the dream."

For those in attendance like Sana Simon, Bhatti is an inspiration because he stood up for justice.

'The (blasphemy) law blames innocent people and they kill them," Simon, 26, said.

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