The bishops of Pakistan appealed to Pope Benedict to officially recognize Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic official in the country who was recently assassinated, as a martyr.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan, which met from March 20 - 25 in Multan, unanimously decided to make a formal request to the Vatican to name Bhatti as a “martyr and patron of religious freedom.”
The 42-year old Bhatti – a leading voice for religious freedom and peace in Pakistan – served as federal minister for religious minorities. He was shot to death by three masked men on March 2 as he left his mother's home in Islamabad by car.
Al-Qaida and the Punjab-based Pakistani Taliban Movement claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s killing, according to the AP.
Rome-based Fides news reported that Bishop Andrew Francis, delegate for the Pakistan conference's Inter-religious Dialogue, presented the official request for recognition of Bhatti's martyrdom, which was approved unanimously by the bishops. The bishops also paid tribute to Bhatti during the meeting, recalling his work on behalf of religious minorities and Christians in the country and his willingness to give his life for his mission.
A “martyr,” from the Greek word meaning “witness,” is someone who dies for the faith. A declaration of martyrdom would mean a miracle would not be required for Bhatti’s possible beatification, although to be canonized as a saint a miracle would be required.
Bhatti's recent murder was especially momentous as it followed the Jan. 4 assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Both men were critics of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which impose death sentences or life imprisonment for acts of disrespect for Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and the Quran.
In a video he recorded to be released in case of his death, Bhatti stated: “I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of ‘cross,’ and I follow Him to the cross.”
“Pray for me and for my life,” Bhatti told Fides ahead of his murder. “I am a man who has burnt his bridges. I cannot and will not go back on this commitment. I will fight fanaticism and fight in defense of Christians to the death.”
In the second week of April, Pakistan's bishops and Catholic faithful will gather in Islamabad to commemorate Bhatti, 40 days after his death.