By Katie Yoder
When a suicide bomber attempted to enter a Catholic church in Pakistan in 2015, a 20-year-old volunteer security guard blocked him.
“I will die but I will not let you go in,” he reportedly told the terrorist armed with explosives. The attacker then set off a bomb, immediately killing himself and the man now recognized as a candidate for canonization: Akash Bashir.
Because of his actions, the church — with more than 1,000 Catholics inside — was saved from a direct blast.
Bashir died on March 15, 2015, when suicide bombers attacked St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church of the Church of Pakistan. Located in Lahore, the churches stand in one of the country’s largest Christian neighborhoods.
Terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA) later claimed the attacks that killed 17 people and injured more than 70, Vatican News reported.
Those numbers might have been greater if Bashir had not guarded St. John’s Catholic Church.
Nearly seven years later, on Jan. 31, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore announced that the Vatican accepted Akash Bashir as a Servant of God, the title given to a candidate for the sainthood while his or her life and work is closely examined.
The archbishop made the announcement about Bashir, an alumnus of the local Don Bosco Technical Institute, on the feast of St. John Bosco, UCA News reported.
Father Francis Gulzar, vicar general of Lahore archdiocese, responded by calling it a “great day for the Catholic Church in Pakistan,” the UCA News report read.
“He offered his life as a sacrifice to save the lives of the Christian community at St. John’s Catholic Church,” the vicar general said. “He is the first Pakistani Christian who has been raised to the rank of the Holy People of God.”
Akash Bashir’s father, Bashir Emmanuel, said he did not initially know the news about his son.
“One of my sons shared that there is a special Mass at the church,” he said, UCA News reported. “This is a very big honor for us. Akash symbolizes the strength of the Christian faith in our country. I pray for the clearance of all steps to sainthood.”
Citing Salesian news agency ANS, Vatican News reported that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints authorized the Lahore archdiocese to open the cause of the martyrdom of Akash Bashir last November.
Bashir’s mother, Naz Bano, previously told Aid to the Church in Need that her son first joined the volunteer security guards at their church in November 2014.
“All denominations were recruiting youth following the 2013 suicide bomb attack at All Saints Church in Peshawar City,” she said. “Akash used to discuss it with his friends and kept insisting for three months that he wanted to guard the church. He was ready to sacrifice his life if God gave him a chance to protect others.”
She remembered hearing explosions the day that he died.
“The streets were filled with people,” she recalled. “Hearing the second blast, I rushed with my youngest son towards the Catholic church.”
Eventually, she found whom she was looking for: her son.
“I was searching for Akash among the boys standing near the church gate,” she said. “But he was lying down in the dirt. His right arm was almost ripped off. I could not believe my eyes.”
Today, she said, another one of her sons, Arsalan, now guards the church “to take the place of his brother.”
“We did not stop him,” she said. “We cannot prevent our sons from serving the Church. It is their choice.”
She described her son, Akash, as a “part of my heart.”
“But our happiness is greater than our grief,” she told ACN. “He was a simple boy who died in the path of the Lord and saved the priest and worshippers. People love him. Akash is already our saint.”