Against the solemn backdrop of the Saint Bartholomew Basilica on Tiber Island in Rome, Shabbaz Bhatti’s Bible was handed over and placed in the collection of tokens kept inside to remember the martyrs.
A prayer was held for the occasion in memory of the Pakistani minister. It was organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio, and presided by Mgr Joseph Coutts, bishop of Faisalabad, the diocese of the Bhatti family, who was recently elected president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan.
Shabbaz Bhatti’s brother, Paul, was present at the service. He was recently appointed “special advisor” on minority affairs to the Pakistani prime minister.
In appeal to AsiaNews, he said, “The Catholic religion urges people to express solidarity and love without distinctions. For this reason, I call on the Catholics of the world to support not only Christians but also people in need and those who suffer in Pakistan.”
Similarly, he addressed his appeal to the international community and to Western Christians. “I ask for your support and help in discharging my new duties,” he said.
During the homily, Mgr Coutts said that “Shabbaz’s mission was to promote peace, harmony, love and understanding in a country experiencing intolerance in the name of religion”.
Then prelate urged Shabbaz’s brother and the entire catholic community to “continue the work” in the footsteps of the slain minister.
“He showed the way,” the bishop of Faisalabad explained, “and we must continue to along the path with courage.”
In addition, Shahbaz Bhatti wanted to “fulfil Ali Jinnah’s mission,” the prelate said. The founder of Pakistan wanted in fact “a nation with equal rights for all, free from fanaticism.”
“This is why he saw the blasphemy law as dangerous because of the abuses it entailed, and why he struggled to have it changed.”
Saint Bartholomew Basilica on Tiber Island is dedicated to the martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. It has a collection of some 12,000 documents sent to the Vatican by a commission set up by John Paul II in 2000 to investigate the martyrs of the 20th century.
The Bible that belonged to Shahbaz Bhatti has been added to the other important items kept at the site, which include the missal of Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero.