Vatican and Bishop of Islamabad Mourn the Murder of Catholic Minister in Pakistan

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Church authorities are expressing shock and sadness over the killing of Shabhaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s lone minister for minorities, who was gunned down in a hail of bullets as he left his mother’s home in Islamabad yesterday morning.

Zenit News is reporting that Bhatti was murdered for his opposition to the country’s draconian blasphemy laws which can impose the death penalty for any action deemed to be an insult to Mohammed. The laws are routinely abused and used to oppress minorities, such as in the high profile case of a Christian woman named Asia Bibi who was arrested on trumped up charges and still sits in a Pakistani prison after narrowly escaping the death penalty.

Bhatti was killed outside his mother’s home where his attackers pulled him out of his car and opened fire at point blank range before fleeing in a car. The minister was rushed to nearby Shifa hospital, but doctors were unable to save him. The killers left a note at the scene of the crime: “Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claims responsibility for the assassination of Bhatti for speaking out against the blasphemy law.” Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan ‘is an umbrella organization of various groups of Islamic militants.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi called Bhatti’s assassination “another terrible episode of violence.”

“It shows how right the Pope is in his persistent remarks concerning violence against Christians and against religious freedom in general,” he said.

Father Lombardi noted that Bhatti was the first Catholic to hold such an office in the Pakistani government and he recalled the official’s meeting with the Pope last September.

“[H]e bore witness to his own commitment to peaceful coexistence among the religious communities of his country,” Father Lombardi said.

The Vatican statement about the murder concluded with a call to respect religious freedom: “Our prayers for the victim, our condemnation for this unspeakable act of violence, our closeness to Pakistani Christians who suffer hatred, are accompanied by an appeal that everyone may become aware of the urgent importance of defending both religious freedom and Christians who are subject to violence and persecution.”

Msgr. Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and a personal friend of Bhatti’s, was left deeply shaken by the killing. He told AsiaNews that Bhatti’s death represented a “sad day not only for minorities, but for humanity.”

The bishop was very familiar with the minister and spoke to him daily. “Bhatti’s daily routine was that he used to go to meet his mother, pray with her. He used to call me and ask me to pray for him every morning,” the bishop said.

“I remember him as a child; he regularly attended the Church; he was passionate since childhood. He was under threat and the government did not provide sufficient security.” He “was a brave man, a man of courage, he took a stand for the minorities,” the bishop reiterated.

“When he took the oath for the new cabinet,” after President Ali Zardari had it reshuffled, “he said he would fight till the last drop of his blood. He proved himself, stood firm and paid the price by his blood. This should be an eye opener for minorities and the government. How much more blood will it take to realize that enough is enough,” he concluded.

Human rights groups from around the world are calling for the immediate repeal of the blasphemy law and the Global of Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has already asked the Indian government to raise the matter at the United Nations Human Rights Council in the Asia Bibi case. 

Bhatti’s death was a true loss to both the country and the worldwide Catholic community.  Whenever he was asked about his passionate commitment to the rights of minorities and the marginalized in his country, he would always say: “I just want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak for me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.”

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