Pakistani government minister and Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, was remembered as a fearless champion of religious minorities at a memorial service on 17 March that was attended by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Bishop of Lahore Alexander Malik and former Bishop of Peshawar Mano Rumalshah - writes Alessia Pirolo.
"Shahbaz knew the meaning of the cross which he followed all the way, to his last breath. But he also knew that the cross is not the end. He knew the power of Christ's resurrection," said Anglican Bishop Tony Robinson, Bishop of Pontefract in the diocese of Wakefield and chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Pakistan Focus Group. The service was held at St Margaret's Church, adjacent to Westminster Abbey.
Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was the first Federal Minister for (religious) Minorities in Pakistan and the only Christian in Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's administration. He was shot to death on 2 March 2011 as he left his mother's home for a cabinet meeting in Islamabad.
While he was still at university, Bhatti founded the Christian Liberation Front to promote tolerance, and he later founded the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, a coalition of minority representatives. He rose to ministerial level in 2008. He was an outspoken critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which makes insults against the Prophet Muhammad punishable by death.
His criticism of the blasphemy laws were shared by Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was assassinated on 4 January. After Taseer's death, Bhatti was one of the few prominent politicians in Pakistan to condemn his murder.
During the service, it was noted that Bhatti was aware his life was at risk. His recorded voice was played: "When I'm leading this campaign against the Shariah laws and for the abolishment of [the] blasphemy law and speaking for the oppressed and for the persecuted Christians and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me," he said. "I'm ready to die for a cause. I'm living for my community and suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I will prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather to compromise," he added.
"Our tribute to Shahbaz will be to follow his love of truth and justice, not limited by fear in the face of adversity and persecution," said Robinson in his sermon.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]