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POPE-BHATTI Mar-7-2011 (420 words) With photos posted March 2, 4 and 7. xxxi

Pope remembers Pakistani minister; bishops recognize him as martyr


Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing after leading the Angelus prayer from the window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 6. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Sara Angle
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) --Pope Benedict XVI prayed that the assassination of Pakistan's minister for minorities would awaken people's consciences to the need to protect the freedom of religious minorities.

"I ask the Lord Jesus that the moving sacrifice of the life of the Pakistani minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, will awaken in people's consciences courage and a commitment to safeguarding the religious freedom of all men and women and, in that way, promote their equal dignity," the pope said March 6 during his midday Angelus address.

A radical Muslim group is suspected of murdering Bhatti, who was killed in his car in Islamabad March 2. He was the first Catholic to serve as minister for minorities and was outspoken against Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws, which Christians say have been used to persecute religious minorities.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Bhatti will be remembered as "a valiant witness of faith and justice."

Bhatti was the second Pakistani official to be assassinated for opposing the anti-blasphemy laws. Salman Taseer, a Muslim and governor of Punjab province, was killed Jan. 4.

In a commentary for Vatican television, Father Lombardi said the fact that a Christian and a Muslim both died for the same cause is a "spark of hope" for working for respect for human rights.

"This is no longer just a dialogue of mutual knowledge or a dialogue in commitment for the common good; from a dialogue in life we pass to the dialogue of witness in death, to the price of one's own blood so that the name of God not be distorted as an instrument of injustice," he said.

Meanwhile, an official of bishops' conference of Pakistan said the body would meet in late March to review a proposal to ask the Vatican formally to identify Bhatti as a martyr.

Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan, president of the bishops' Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, drafted the proposal and told the Vatican's missionary news agency, Fides, "Bhatti is a man who gave his life for his crystalline faith in Jesus Christ. It is up to us, the bishops, to tell his story and experience to the church in Rome, to call for official recognition of his martyrdom."

Catholic bishops in the United States and Canada were among those who spoke out against Bhatti's murder, noting that he had promoted interfaith dialogue. Canadian bishops also encouraged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ensure that Canadian foreign policy officials make clear that religious freedom is promoted in meetings with officials of other governments.

END


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