PAKISTAN (Herald Malaysia): Catholic priests have called for the canonization of Shahbaz Bhatti, a former federal minister who was gunned down by last year for criticizing the country’s harsh blasphemy laws.
Churches across the country held memorial services on Mar 2 and hundreds of Christians took part in rallies to mark the first anniversary of the death of the minorities affairs minister.
Members of Bhatti’s party — the all Pakistan Minority Alliance — placed candles and flowers in the street in Islamabad where he was assassinated.
“There is no doubt in my mind — the Church should consider declaring Shahbaz Bhatti a saint; his life should be documented,” said Fr Bonnie Mendes, Caritas Asia’s former regional coordinator.
“He was a true Catholic and was killed for his faith. The Church needs to come together and promote the cause to canonize him,” he added.
Fr Andrew Nisari, vicar-general of Lahore archdiocese, expressed similar views at a memorial service on Mar 3 jointly organized with the Protestant Church.
“We urge bishops to struggle for the Pakistani martyr until he is recognized. All Christians killed in blasphemy cases should be declared as martyrs”, he said, addressing a congregation of 500 people, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.
Church of Pakistan Bishop Alexander John Malik, in his message, said that Bhatti had told him he expected to be killed.
“A few days before his murder, he called me late in the evening and said ‘they’ [extremists] will kill him. I suggested he leave the country for a few months but he insisted on staying and working for the nation,” the bishop said.
Scotland’s most senior Catholic bishop has called for the Church to consider declaring Shahbaz Bhatti a saint. In a statement issued on March 2 — the first anniversary of Bhatti’s death — Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, expressed his hope that the Church will look into the option of canonising Mr Bhatti.
Noting that the canonisation process normally begins five years after the candidate’s death, Cardinal O’Brien said, “When that time comes I believe the Church should very seriously examine the question of whether Shahbaz Bhatti might be declared a saint... It would be wonderful to think that... Shahbaz Bhatti could become a patron for Justice and Peace in Pakistan or indeed Asia.”
In his call to look into the possibility of the Catholic politician being canonised, Cardinal O’Brien described him as a man who had lived and died for his Christian faith. He said: “From what we know of his life and work Shahbaz Bhatti appears to have been a true man of God, who led a life of heroic virtue... His final interview reveals that he foresaw that he might die for what he believed in and was not afraid to join his Lord on the cross.
“His commitment to Christ suggests that here is an individual whose life and faith is worthy of examination [to see if he might be declared a saint] and it may be that in the fullness of time Shahbaz Bhatti is raised to the dignity of the altars.”
Cardinal O’Brien’s call to examine Bhatti’s worthiness for sainthood was made in a statement to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, which is one of the organisers behind an event in central London honouring the Pakistani politician. The peace rally and concert held on March 10, led by the British Pakistani Christian Association, commemorated the anniversary of Bhatti’s death and called for changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the way they are enforced.
The blasphemy laws impose sentences including execution and life imprisonment for offences against Islam — and Mr Bhatti was murdered for speaking out after Asia Bibi became the first woman to be sentenced to death under these laws.
He added his hope that Latin America’s Archbishop Oscar Romero might one day become one of the patron saints of Central and South America as well. -- Agencies