Marking the fifth anniverary of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti on Wednesday, a Pakistani diocese has opened a process of enquiry towards declaring the late politician a martyr.
Bhatti, a Catholic and the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, worked as the federal minister for minorities and spoke out against religious persecution, and particularly the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
He was gunned down by members of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan while driving in Islamabad on March 2, 2011, after more than a year of death threats.
“He spoke with faith and demonstrated courage. Thanks to him the voice of Pakistan's Christians was heard. He paved the way for us. He was a good Catholic and gave his life for his mission,” Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said at a March 2 ceremony marking the anniversary of Bhatti's death.
The Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi has begun collecting testimonies about Bhatti to enquire into his martyrdom and sanctity.
Among the testimonies is that of Bishop Anthony Lobo, who died in 2013.
Bishop Lobo entrusted his testimony to the Vatican's missionary news agency Fides in 2012, in which he said that Bhatti, “although he had little desire to so … decided to play an active part in politics in order to protect the country’s Christians and other minorities. A man of great commitment he decided not to marry. He lived a life of celibacy. He had no possessions and saw his activity as a service. I believe that Clement Shahbaz Bhatti was a dedicated lay Catholic martyred for his faith.”
Shahbaz' brother Paul succeeded him as Pakistan's Minister of National Harmony and Minority Affairs. Paul spoke to CNA in 2013, saying he has “no doubt he is a martyr, because his whole life was dedicated to the teaching of the Bible and he was a strong believer of Our Lord Jesus Christ … we are getting help from him.”
Shahbaz “never negotiated his faith, and he expressed his faith openly everywhere, even when he knew he could be killed,” Paul said.
“He believed so strongly that he laid down his life for his Christian principles and for Jesus Christ.”
Before his death, Shahbaz Bhatti told Fides that “I am a man who has burnt his bridges. I cannot and will not go back on this commitment. I will fight fanaticism and fight in defense of Christians to the death.”
On March 1, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert George, called Bhatti “a close friend” and marked the anniversary of his death by calling for an end to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which he said “conflicts with fundamental human rights protections.”
“It is long past time for the Pakistani government to bring to justice Bhatti’s killers, reform and then repeal the blasphemy law, and release, pardon and ensure the safety of all individuals imprisoned for blasphemy,” George added.