Christians, activists remember slain Pakistani minister

Christians and human rights activists paid tribute on the 3-4 March weekend to Shahbaz Bhatti, former minister for religious minority affairs in Pakistan's federal cabinet, who was assassinated a year ago. 

Churches across Pakistan held special prayers in remembrance of Bhatti who was ambushed in his car and sprayed with bullets on 2 March in Islamabad, and secular groups such as Citizens for Democracy organized candlelight vigils and public observances in several cities. 

The 42-year old federal minister, who was Catholic, became a target for Islamic fundamentalists after he criticized Pakistan's blasphemy law, which carries harsh penalties for insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. Bhatti also in 2010 initiated a clemency petition for Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. "Every church in Pakistan remembered him with special prayers. How can they forget him?" Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Roman Catholic church, told ENInews from Lahore. 

At the Catholic cathedral in Lahore, Church of Pakistan bishop Alexander John Mallick joined Catholic bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore in an ecumenical prayer service on 3 March, attended by hundreds of Christians to remember the "sacrifice" of Bhatti. 

"Everyone wants him to be declared as a saint," replied Mani when asked for reaction to reports that some Christians are gathering support for Bhatti's canonization. 

Meanwhile, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), founded by Bhatti, in a statement hailed the mid-term election to Pakistan's Senate that was held on 2 March. For the first time, four members of religious minorities were elected to the 100-member Senate -- two Hindus, one Christian and a Sikh. "Call it providence or coincidence, we are very happy that the election took place on his death anniversary. He had been campaigning for it even before he became a minister (in 2008)," Michelle Chaudhry, APMA spokesperson, told ENInews. 

Chaudhry said that APMA is organizing a major convention in Islamabad on 6 March on the legacy of Bhatti, which will be addressed by eminent personalities including Pakistan's prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Anto Akkara

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