Response to a Sacrifice

October 21, 2011

Supporting Peace and Justice

On March 2, 2011, those who work toward peace and justice suffered a great tragedy for on that day, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs, was assassinated. Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian cabinet member in the majority Muslim country of Pakistan. At great personal risk, he dedicated his life to working toward promotion of universal values of sanctity of life and dignity for all people. He worked for the realization of human rights and a life free of religious discrimination for all. Bhatti’s death removed one of the few Pakistani leaders openly advocating the reform of laws which negatively affect minorities.

In February 2010, Julie Espina heard Mr. Bhatti speak at an event in Washington, DC. After hearing about Mr. Bhatti’s assassination, she shared these thoughts:

“This is very sad news. I heard Minister Bhatti speak last winter at the Religious Action Center. It was a small, informal event in which perhaps twenty-fi ve people were gathered around a long conference room table to hear Mr. Bhatti speak and to ask him questions about his work. Mr. Bhatti was invited to share about his work in Pakistan and about the challenges he faced.

The host of the event stressed the fact that Mr. Bhatti had received threats because of his work, and that especially among extremist groups, he was not a popular individual. In his presentation, Mr. Bhatti expressed his awareness of the dangers of his job and implicitly stated his willingness to risk his life in order to advance the rights of minorities. I had heard others speak about a willingness to die for a cause, but I had never before heard someone speak of it with such palpable resolution.

Despite the gravity of his statements, I have to admit that I left the event without a true understanding of how seriously Mr. Bhatti was putting his life on the line. While listening to him speak in a cushy conference room on Washington D.C.’s Embassy Row, it required mental effort to grasp the dangerous nature of his career choice. Given my limited understanding of what it means to risk your life for your ideals, I left the event with an incomplete picture in my mind of Mr. Bhatti. He was someone with an international air and a cosmopolitan vibe who championed the cause of religious, ethnic and cultural minorities in his home country; who visited the U.S. to meet with senior government offi cials. The idea that he was risking his life for all of that just added some glamour to his reputation.

My fl awed understanding of Mr. Bhatti’s risk made his assassination more shocking. Here was a man whom I had met, whose hand I had shaken, who was brutally murdered for standing up for his beliefs, for trying to make his country a better place. He had said he understood the risks, was aware of the stakes, knew what he was doing. I just wasn’t able to see the reality of it until I read the headlines announcing his death.

For a few days after his assassination, I kept thinking of the event last winter, trying to remember more of what he said. I took his business card out of my card case more than once, staring at the name and title, the embossed green text and offi cial seal. What I kept coming back to was the sense of inspiration I felt during the presentation last February. Even with my limited understanding of the genuine risk he was taking, Mr. Bhatti’s determination to work for peace and justice in the face of opposition provided hope for the future of minority affairs in Pakistan, and in all regions of the world. Mr. Bhatti’s life was an example of a total commitment to justice, and it is a shame that Pakistan’s minorities now have one fewer defender. However, I am certain that I am not the only one who was inspired by his words and actions and I remain confident that his sacrifi ce will not be forgotten, hopeful that his example will be followed.”

Upon learning of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, The Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach drafted a statement recognizing the immense and unforgettable achievements of Mr. Bhatti. We extended our solidarity to the people of Pakistan and the continuation of Mr. Bhatti’s dream of human rights for minorities in Pakistan. One hundred and twelve individuals signed onto the letter and it was sent it to the Pakistani embassy. People from both the Catholic and Muslim faiths signed onto the letter, expressing their gratitude for and solidarity with Shahbaz Bhatti.

Mr. Bhatti’s life was one committed to justice.We applaud his work and all that he has done in support of peace and justice.