On the first anniversary of his death, community and church leaders from all over Ontario and from across the border in the US, came together to celebrate the life and sacrifice of former Minister of Minorities Pakistan, martyr Shahbaz Bhatti. The community was joined by leaders of government, Canadian church leaders, clergy, and dignitaries from human rights organizations, among the over 400 gathered that night. It was an especially difficult evening for the mother of Shahbaz Bhatti, his close friends and family who mourned his loss; tears that have been for the most part, replaced with a hardened determination by all to see that his death will not be lost in stories of those that we lost before him, and the many more we will lose to persecution.
Shahbaz was a unique person. He took time to unite our community into organizations such as the Christian Liberation Front, the All Pakistan Minorities Association (now being headed by his brother Dr. Paul Bhatti, adviser to the President of Pakistan), and here in Canada the International Christian Voice. He then rose to become Minister of Minorities, a decision he did not take lightly. More than this, he took individual interest in people. In the past year, speaking to many people and families that Shahbaz rescued from the perils of persecution, I’ve become more aware of how personal his relationship was to these people; they were not cases to him.
Fellow blogger Babette Francis wrote:
“He loved working on the front-lines of activism. When Christian villagers of Charsadda, in fear of attack from local extremists, called for help, he traveled to the north-west to be with them. When eight were killed and more than 100 houses destroyed in 2009 in Gojra, Punjab, Bhatti (then a government minister) refused to leave the police station until the crimes were registered.”
I remember now speaking with a father: Mr. Munir's daughter was in one of the most disturbing cases of persecution I could imagine with my limited understanding of evil. She was raped at 3 or 4 years old; torn apart and left to bleed in a field as her father watched the disgusting perpetrator run off. I am amazed, knowing that women far stronger and far older who go through atrocities like this are not able to survive... somehow thank God, she survived. Her father told us how Shahbaz came to help them the moment he found out about what happened, how he held the girl in his arms for hours and wept for her; how he went from place to place trying to help their child receive medical treatment; how he didn’t just hide the family, he hid WITH them in basements and different homes. Without his giving them strength, they would not have survived; they would not be here today in Canada.
What a man.
If I found that just this family was affected like they were by Shahbaz Bhatti, I would admire him for the rest of my life. But there is so much more that my words cannot come close to describing. If a man like any of us who lives in the sin of this world.. who feels the temptations that we all do.. who goes through the same issues, the same problems with others - family/friends/coworkers. If this man who dealt not only with victims but with a corrupt and unhelpful government - could put that much effort to save the life of one little girl: What excuse do you have not to do the same?
I know I have none.
I was honored to have hosted the evening with family friend Raheel Masih; and with the assistance of our behind-the-scenes crew Mr. Vincent Samuel (who kept things on track and kept details of everyone that came in to be recognized, impossible to do without him), Daud Bhatti (on his feet the entire night lining up speakers), and Nitasha Bhatti/Zarin Arif (our audio-visual stars, overcoming issue after issue to ensure that videos were on cue).
My greatest thanks to all of them. I am blessed to have such a reliable group of people around me; who know when to stop and pray when it feels like it's raining problems.
Our evening began with a prayer and sermon led by the Archbishop Ret. His Grace Lawrence Saldhana (Archdiocese of Lahore), and the recently elevated Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Toronto, His Eminence Cardinal Thomas Collins; they were assisted by members of the Canadian Pakistani Christian community, who read from the bible. His Eminence a humble and clearly genuine man himself, told us of Shahbaz: the Church is so proud of him and his honorable sacrifice. Jesus sparked a light in him that has shone in his life and beyond it, (he is among the select few who have received audience with the Pope not once but twice in his life, the second time just one month before his assassination).
The Christian Register wrote:
“..he stood firm and ultimately died because he took to heart Christ’s words that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for another.
A Catholic of profound faith, Bhatti predicted his murder while visiting Canada four weeks before the gunman struck. Bhatti knew his own death was imminent unless he renounced his Christian principles and abandoned his fight. Yet he never wavered.
‘I was struck by how resigned he was about his expected martyrdom,’ said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney after Bhatti’s death.
Sadly, Bhatti was just one among thousands of Christians killed in 2011 because of their faith. There is no global ledger to calculate the scale of Christian persecution. But the European bishops conference estimates that 75 per cent of the world’s religious persecution targets Christians, striking at 100 million people in dozens of countries. The most dangerous places, in addition to Pakistan, are Asian nations such as China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, many Middle East nations, particularly Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and several African nations including Egypt, Nigeria and Sudan.”
After two beautiful songs sung by the Hallelujah Band led by Mr. Abiam Shad, including Shahbaz’s favorite Psalm “Daim Yahova Ya Rabb”, His Eminence Cardinal Thomas Collins led the family of Shahbaz Bhatti (his mother; brother Peter Bhatti and family; his sister Jacqueline Yousif and her family), and dignitaries in a Candle Lighting Ceremony. Lighting candles of prayer and solidarity with Shahbaz’s memory and his cause. During the ceremony Ms. Alfa Pascual, a young Filipina singer, serenaded those participating with Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath my Wings”.
It was a beautiful moment; many thanks to Mrs. Eliza & Mr. Reuben Charles for their hard work setting up the Candle Lighting Ceremony and providing all the flowers for this event.
Peter Bhatti, Chair of International Christian Voice, then spoke for his brother’s memory. He talked to us about the faith his brother held dear. Love that he extended from God to Pakistan, not only for the Christians, but all other minorities. I’ve witnessed this in the past, listening to the words of a Pakistani Sikh (Bishon Singh Chohan), who claimed Shahbaz as a close friend and spoke of his genuine commitment for the betterment of the Sikh community.
After Mr. Bhatti, the Honorable Minister Jason Kenney told us about his own relationship with Shahbaz, and his personal admiration for his work and sacrifice. He then reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to support ICV and others to end the heinous government sponsored religious persecution in Pakistan. Kenney stated that Shahbaz not only revealed the injustice of blasphemy in Pakistan, but because he spoke up for the Christians in his own country, he turned the worlds’ attention to a much larger issue that resonates for Christians in Egypt, Nigeria, India, Iran, so many places; as well as for other religious minorities that are targeted all over the world.
The Honorable Minister Bal Gosal remembered Shahbaz, and thanked the Bhatti family and the ICV who are continuing to carry out his goals after him. Minister Gosal spoke passionately in his native tongue Punjabi, thanking Shahbaz for what he did for the Sikh community in Pakistan.
Member Parliament Bob Dechert (Erindale-Mississauga), who is also Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Honorable John Baird) as well as the person overseeing the soon to be opened Office of Religious Freedom here in Canada; has been a constant supporter of our community in Canada. He gave his condolences and committed his support for Pakistani Christians.
Frank Domenichiello (President Progressive Conservative Party, Vaughan) & Mirella Chiapetta brought condolences and greetings from the Honorable Julian Fantino, Minister of Defense. They read a poignant letter that was sent from his office, in which he praised Shahbaz’s work, condemned his assassination and the persecution he and all religious minorities in Pakistan face.
Honorable Senator Salma Ataullahjan spoke about her friend Shabaz, whom she knew well and worked with on many occasions. She mourned his loss for his family, and for Pakistan.
Pastor John Bootsma, Lead Airport Campus Pastor at Catch the Fire Toronto, read the words written on the posters around the room; telling us that blood shed does not seep into the ground and disappear, but we know from Revelation that God hears that blood cry out. With the martyrs of this world is the cry of Shahbaz' blood; crying justice for his people, justice for his death. Pastor Bootsma injected a very much needed dose of spiritual reality into our evening.
For the Ahmaddiya community of Pakistan: Mr. Ijaz Rauf spoke on behalf of Malik Lal Khan Sahib (National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Canada). Ahmadi persecution is very real in Pakistan; in reality Islamic division is widespread. Each denomination violently battles the other. Minorities are sidelined and equally treated by all as unequal to any Muslim; as less than human members of Pakistan.
Councillor Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1 – Etobicoke North) & his lovely wife attended the evening, and showed their solidarity with the Pakistani Christian community as they have done many times in the past. Councillor Crisanti brought a message from Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford, an advocate for conservative values himself. Mayor Ford also dropped in to the event during dinner to personally give his condolences to the Bhatti family and the community. He spoke of his own desires to bring conservative standards back to Toronto and reaffirmed Toronto’s commitment to stand up against religious bullies. Mayor Ford, an atheist, is a very real person with strong convictions. Humble and straightforward by nature, he spent a good couple of hours greeting all the guests and obliging the crowd with photos and autographs.
After he spoke, I was talking to Ghazala Grace Webb and she told me about how her family was praying for him, and I personally have been praying for him since too; I think you should all do the same!
Prayers were said through the evening by Reverend Dr. Rashid Gill (appetizers), Pastor Alexander David (opening prayer), and Pastor Pagey Isaac (closing prayer and dinner).
At the end of the evening, Mr. Vincent Samuel gave his heartfelt thanks to all of the ICV, dignitaries, clergy, pastors, community leaders, and human rights organizations that came together to pay tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti. He especially thanked the women behind the scenes that worked tirelessly to organize and support the success of the event -- including as he put it “my lovely wife Phoebe Samuel!” He thanked the Canadian government for their strong stand against religious persecution and their continued work to promote the uplifting of the Christians in Pakistan.
I would like to add one more thanks to Bro Solomon Bhatti (Evangelist and Gospel Singer) and his delegation from St Hugh & St Edmund Anglican Church of Canada for their attendance that night. My sincere apologies that we were not made aware of your presence in time to be able to recognize you at the event. You have our genuine thanks for coming, and we look forward to working with you in the future!
Throughout the evening we also played several videos including the ICV Youth Tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti; ICV’s Official Tribute to the life and works of Shahbaz Bhatti (first released September 9th); and a video by the Voice of Martyrs (US Chapter) called “Chura – Shafia’s Story” -- about a girl who’s family faced life-long persecution; she herself was kidnapped, raped and her predators attempted to force her to become Muslim. The video showed why even the most atrocious of trials that we face in this world cannot erase the joy of Christ.
It was a relief for all of us that worked diligently day and night to make this tribute possible that it went well. We wanted to make it as authentic and genuine as we could to the memory of someone we will never forget. I’m proud to say that I and my family did all we could for him that night, and we vow to continue for as long as we humanly can to be used by God.
Remember to always have a kingdom perspective brothers and sisters, like Shahbaz did. We influence not only others' lives here on earth, but souls and eternities. That’s a lot longer than anything we’ve ever experienced -- greater than anything that terrorists can throw our way.
|Thank you to his beloved niece Ms. Jennifer Yousif for this awesome quote and picture.|
**Feel free to click on the hyperlinks in the blog to go to the articles and videos that were referenced! Pictures and more coming soon!**