In a brief encounter with Pope Francis following his general audience Wednesday, former Pakistani minister Paul Bhatti discussed persecuted Christians and invited the pontiff to visit his country.
“I met him with my mom and it was a desire and a heartfelt wish of my mom to see the Holy Father and to share her views regarding peace in the world and regarding the persecution of Christians in the world,” Bhatti told CNA Aug. 28.
“I translated for her and conveyed this message, and I saw that the Pope was really moved by her statement, and he showed her, and me, that he is with us with his prayers,” and is with “all who are persecuted in the name of religion.”
Bhatti is the former Federal Minister of National Harmony and Minorities Affairs in Pakistan, which is a position he took on after the assassination of his younger brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed in 2011 by Islamic extremists.
The two had worked closely to assist the most marginalized and oppressed in the country, and strove to promote religious freedom, equality and social justice, particularly fighting violations of those areas within Pakistan.
Meeting Pope Francis was important, especially for his mother, Bhatti noted, because he is the “head of the Christian Church, it means head of all those who follow the Christian Church, our faith,” so his role is one of “humility” and a sharing in the “suffering due to the general situation of law and order.”
Recalling how his mother invited the pontiff to come and visit their small Christian community in Pakistan, the former minister explained that although he didn’t give a decisive answer, “He just had my mom’s hand in his hand and he had a big hug with my mom.”
“Afterward he expressed that he is with us and his love, care, etc., is toward all those who are a part of our Church.”
The current situation in Pakistan “is quite complicated,” he noted, because there is “sectarian violence, there’s extremism, there’s terrorism and there’s instability” on a political and economic level, as well as problems with “law and order” in general.
“So the situation of Christians and all those who belong to the weak sector of society is directly proportionate to the general stability of our country,” Bhatti observed, stating that “I think it’s getting worse.”
“It’s not only one community that’s being targeted, but the whole country and its population, where we lived in Pakistan even Muslims are a target. But it’s getting worse.”
What can help, he explained, is if the international community unites to “try to bring peace and stability in that country. And if the country is stable, if there’s peace in the country I think everybody will get benefit of that.”
“It’s needed that the international community and those who have influence should use it to bring peace in that region and stability.”
Reflecting on the great solidarity Pope Francis has shown toward persecuted Christians across the Middle East, Bhatti explained that what the pontiff is saying is that “we belong to one community, we belong to one faith, we belong to one Church and everybody is united with each other whether they are in Pakistan, whether they are in Italy or whether they are in America.”
“So this bond, this kind of relationship on the basis of the faith we have with each other, this keeps us united and he is there to help us, to be with us, and for him it’s not important who is where, but he is strongly concerned with the persecuted people of the whole world.”