Pope Benedict XVI expressed his concern for the protection of human dignity and religious freedom again this week as Pakistani Catholics recalled the legacy of murdered government minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
Father Shahzad Niamat, a Pakistani priest, was among the parish priests of the Diocese of Rome present for a traditional Lenten audience with Pope Benedict on March 10. He represented the Pakistani clergy and religious in the diocese as he spoke briefly with the Pope to inform him of their situation.
“We explained to the Pope the situation of Christians in Pakistan, where to witness to the faith can sometimes lead to death,” Fr. Niamat told Fides news.
“The Holy Father seemed very concerned,” he said. “He expressed his solidarity and his support and assured us of his prayers.”
The priest also thanked the Pope for his words in support of the Church and religious freedom in Pakistan after the assassination of minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti on March 2.
“The Holy Father communicated to us his hope that things may change and that in Pakistan there may be full respect for human dignity and religious freedom. He gave us his blessing,” concluded Fr. Niamat.
Pakistan's ambassador to the Holy See, Mrs. Ayesha Riyaz told CNA that the legacy of Bhatti lives on in Pakistan's government. His assassination “is something that across the board, all of us have felt deeply and we have endured and we have condemned,” she said.
“He was a remarkable man with a very good heart who did a lot of good things.”
“I think he is a man who has a legacy, and that legacy is for interfaith harmony and interfaith dialogue. And, I think that legacy will continue and we are all committed to it,” said Riyaz on March 10.
Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari said that, “Bhatti's sacrifice for the Country, for religious minorities, to promote inter-religious harmony and tolerance will not be in vain and will be remembered for long to come.”
Fides reported the declaration after a March 8 meeting with Bhatti's mother, four brothers and sister.
In a resolution adopted at the European Parliament on March 10, diplomats condemned the assassination and called for the appointment “without delay” of a new, “strong and impartial minority representative to take his place.”
They also urged a thorough investigation of the “brutal murder” and warned that the “next candidate for murder” could be former Pakistani minister, Sherry Rehman, for whom a death order has reportedly been issued by extremists.
A candidate favored to assume the murdered Bhatti's role at the head of the Ministry for Minority Affairs is his brother, Paul Bhatti, a surgeon. He has already been elected to succeed his brother as the director of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.
Ambassador Riyaz did not exclude the possible succession. The younger Bhatti's candidacy must first go through the election commission.