Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Archbishop Saldanha: Shahbaz Bhatti, an honest man and "martyr" for the rights of minorities

Archbishop Emeritus of Lahore, Mgr. Saldanha, wants to share his personal memories of a Catholic minister Shahbaz Bhatti a year after his death. 

The prelate emphasizes his "natural charisma" as a good leader, who fought for all minorities. 

Different from the "corrupt politicians" dedicated to the system of bribes, he lived his life and his work based "on the example of Christ."

On the first anniversary of his brutal killing ,the Christian community in Pakistan pays homage and recalls with pride and sorrow the passing away of its brightest star, Clement Shahbaz Bhatti. I knew him personally for many years . I was impressed by two characteristics: his commitment to the downtrodden and his  leadership abilities.
At an early age, in his early twenties, Shahbaz made the decision to dedicate his life for the uplift of his oppressed community. He wanted to free them from their slavery. This conviction and passion animated his whole life. That is why he never married because he wanted to be free to pursue his goals.

He also had the natural charisma of a good leader. He founded a pressure group  called Christian Liberation Front, which held public meetings to fight for political rights of the marginalised Christian community.Later, he widened his scope of activism to include all minority groups. He established the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) which was an umbrella organization that represented poor Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.

Here again he showed his leadership qualities. His bold efforts in highlighting the problems faced by the minorities, caught the attention of the leader of the People 's Party, Miss Benazir Bhutto recognized his sincerity and  dedication. He himself did not want to stand for political office but actively lobbied for his own followers to get elected as Provincial Members of Parliament.He chose to stay in the background and work behind the scenes.

When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007, the People'sParty won the elections and they inducted  Shehbaz as the Federal Minister of Minorities in 2008, the first Catholic to hold this exalted position. He succeeded in getting an official day sanctioned for the minorities  called  Minorities Day  which is celebrated every year  on August 11 as a day of recognition of the role of minorities.

But he soon discovered that he had to toe the party line and defend the government policies. 

He was also used for propaganda and publicity purposes and sent on official visits to foreign countries, including the Vatican where he was well received by the present Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. Deep in his heart he felt frustrated, and began to speak about His impending death because of his opposition to the Blasphemy Law.

His Legacy

Shahbaz Bhatti left a deep impression of an honest and deeply committed publi c servant. He was quite different from the rest of the self serving and corrupt politicians. He was a staunch, practising Catholic and inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. Like Christ , he stood up for truth justice and freedom for the common man.

He was honest in awarding construction contracts, unlike the usual politician who generally takes his commission. This witness of imitation of Christ finally lead him to shed his blood for his people.He is considered a "martyr" by the Christian  people. They mourn the loss of a committed champion of their rights. His close followers are determined to carry on his mission. His brother, Dr Paul Bhatti, is now chairman of APMA and tries to continue the work. But he does not have the same charism.

There are plans to build a monument in his native village, Khushpur. It will be a permanent memorial to a brave and selfless leader, who rose to the highest office possible for a Christian. 

Meanwhile, in the past year, the political and economic situation in  Pakistan has become more unstable and critical. It's very survival is in question.

So the lofty ideals of Shahbaz Bhatti are pushed very much in the background, and do not seem urgent or relevant any more in the present context. I salute the passing of a great and irreplaceable leader, Shahbaz Bhatti.   

And I pray that God may bless and prosper his noble mission  for freedom,equality and human rights for all.   

May he rest in peace!