Catholic priests have called for the canonization of Shahbaz Bhatti, a former federal minister who was gunned down by last year for criticizing the country’s harsh blasphemy laws.
Churches across the country held memorial services on Friday and hundreds of Christians took part in rallies on to mark the first anniversary of the death of the minorities affairs minister.
Members of Bhatti’s party — the all Pakistan Minority Alliance — placed candles and flowers in the street in Islamabad where he was assassinated.
“There is no doubt in my mind — the Church should consider declaring Shahbaz Bhatti a saint; his life should be documented,” said Father Bonnie Mendes, Caritas Asia’s former regional coordinator.
“He was a true Catholic and was killed for his faith. The Church needs to come together and promote the cause to canonize him,” he added.
Father Andrew Nisari, vicar-general of Lahore archdiocese, expressed similar views at a memorial service on Saturday jointly organized with the Protestant Church.
“We urge bishops to struggle for the Pakistani martyr until he is recognized. All Christians killed in blasphemy cases should be declared as martyrs”, he said, addressing a congregation of 500 people, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.
Church of Pakistan Bishop Alexander John Malik, in his message, said that Bhatti had told him he expected to be killed.
“A few days before his murder, he called me late in the evening and said ‘they’ [extremists] will kill him. I suggested he leave the country for a few months but he insisted on staying and working for the nation,” the bishop said.