Brother of slain Pakistani minister tells conference in Rome 'we will continue his battle'

Paul Bhatti, brother of the former Pakistani minister for minorities who was murdered by Islamic extremists, has said that he and his family have forgiven his brother’s assassins.

Shahbaz Bhatti, who spoke out against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws and encouraged religious freedom, was shot dead last month.

Speaking to reporters in Rome, Paul Bhatti said his family had forgiven Shahbaz’s assassins, “because our faith teaches us to do this. Our brother Shahbaz was a Christian and the Christian faith tells us to forgive.”

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The brother participated in a conference sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Rome-based Catholic lay organisation active in international affairs. The conference was designed as a memorial to Shahbaz Bhatti and as a way to encourage the continuation of his mission of promoting interreligious dialogue in Pakistan.

The day after the conference, Paul Bhatti attended Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience and spoke to him briefly.

He told the conference: “To obtain peace in the world we must all walk together … [peace] is a universal responsibility.”

He said his brother never compromised his faith-motivated work for social justice and, he said, Shahbaz Bhatti once said explicitly that he “left his life in the hands of Jesus”.

Paul Bhatti asked for prayers and support to keep Shahbaz’s life work going.

While he said he and his family had forgiven the assassins, he said there was a need to clarify what happened and find the perpetrators to prevent a similar crime from happening in the future.

“The person who killed him did not extinguish his light because we will continue his battle with strength and determination,” he said.

Paul Bhatti recently assumed the position of the Pakistani president’s “special adviser” for religious minorities and he told reporters his first priority was to promote the real integration of minorities into Pakistani society, “talking with Muslims and reducing sentiments of hatred”.

Mr Bhatti said he has the support of the Pakistani government; “the fact that they have asked me to continue my brother’s work shows their desire for change”.

Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, who was Shahbaz Bhatti’s bishop in Pakistan, also attended the conference, and said that he remembered Bhatti as “a very committed man, he wanted to do something, he was very sincere, very honest. He was a man with a vision, and always positive.”

Bishop Coutts compared Bhatti to the great martyrs Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, because “all worked peacefully, they used peaceful methods”.

He said the Pakistani government was doing what it could to provide protection outside churches and for religious functions, but the government is also under attack by extremists.

Bishop Coutts said: “We are going through a difficult time in our history in Pakistan with the rise of intolerance and extremism in the last few years, but you have got to understand this in the wider context of what is happening in the world.”

He said: “The intervention of the United States and Nato forces, and the attacks that continue from outside Pakistan territory into Pakistan, where not only a handful of terrorists are being killed, but many innocent people are being killed”, leave Muslims in Pakistan questioning who the real terrorists are.

“When a Muslim looks at the West, the West is seen as Christian,” he said. Muslims look at the situation and say to themselves, “the Christians are doing terrorism; why doesn’t the Pope condemn this terrorism?” he said.

Marco Impagliazzo, the president of Sant’Egidio, said the community held the conference to show “that the memory of a martyr always produces something new and beautiful”.

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