Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti "is not dead," he "lives in Christ". His sacrifice embodies the desire of the nation, Pakistan, to see religious minorities fully enjoy the same rights and dignity, said Mgr Joseph Coutts as he remembered a year later the brutal assassination of the Catholic minister at the hands of Muslim extremists. The prelate was recently appointed archbishop of Karachi after many years as the bishop of Faisalabad.
"At least 3,000 people" took part in ceremonies in Faisalabad and his home town of Khushpur, in Punjab, marking the Catholic minister's death, his brother Paul Bhatti said. The latter, who is currently the prime minister's special advisor on national harmony, spoke about the "incredible emotion" and "strong drive" he feels about carrying on Shahbaz's work.
A good number of people from "various parts, including neighbouring villages, came," Paul Bhatti said. At the end of the ceremony, conducted by Mgr Coutts, who is the current president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Pakistan and a personal friend of Shahbaz Bhatti, there was an "exchange of greetings and wishes with a group of people that recited poems in my brother's honour."
During the morning, "I experienced moments of intense emotion," the special adviser said. "People would get up and shout: 'Shahbaz is alive; he is not dead'. This is part of his legacy too."
At the end of the Mass, the delegation travelled to the Catholic minister's burial for a joint prayer. "There were Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs," Paul Bhatti said. "At least 3,000 people took part in the ceremonies."
He thought about the "initial moment" when he felt deep "sadness, disappointment, shock and anger", a year ago, when he heard about the murder. This gave way with the warmth around him to a feeling of "consolation and great honour" due "to the great love people still have for Shahbaz."
After several months, Paul Bhatti said he understood that "Jesus wants me to continue in the path laid down by my brother."
For this reason, he has promised to himself that he would continue to work on behalf of Pakistan's Christians and other minorities in the fields of education, economy, religious freedom and protection for the weakest, who are the victims of "discriminatory laws."
"I see some light at the end of the tunnel," he noted. "I realise that people believe in this mission and I feel I can be useful."
Shahbaz Bhatti was killed in the morning of 2 March 2011 on his way to work, his body riddled with 30 bullets.
For months, the authorities tried to cover up the affair, blaming the murder on a family dispute and later, financial matters.
So far, it is unclear who carried out the attacks, but few doubt Pakistani extremists were involved. Police acknowledge that they are still in the dark.
Still, many in Pakistan want to keep Shahbaz Bhatti's memory alive, by promoting his work, ideals and political-cultural testament in favour of a secular and multicultural Pakistan as the Father of the Nation, Ali Jinnah, had envisaged it. (DS)