Part of our History: Our Christian Community

Islam spread through the area of current-day Pakistan in the 7th and 8th centuries. In recent times various currents open to modernity have developed, as well as more traditionalist movements working toward an "ideal Islamic society" as it supposedly existed in the earliest centuries of Islam. Violent movements, reacting against all that might be perceived as undermining "the purity of Islam," as well as against arrogant meddling by the Western powers, have also increased dramatically in recent years.

The so-called "blasphemy laws" condemn to death or life imprisonment anyone who does not properly respect the prophet Muhammad and the Qur'an. Not only can they sometimes make it difficult for Christians to express themselves without appearing un-Islamic, they also have been used by false witnesses as a weapon in land disputes and personal quarrels.

Shahbaz BhattiShahbaz Bhatti

Shahbaz Bhatti, a 42-year-old Christian Cabinet Minister who had campaigned against these laws on behalf of religious minorities (including Christians, who make up 2.5% of the population, but also Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, etc.), was shot to death on March 2nd 2011

Just two months earlier the Muslim governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, had also been murdered for defending a Christian woman accused under the blasphemy law.

The Little Sisters write from the city of Multan:

Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in Islamabad. He was th Federal Minister for Minorities, and worked for all the marginalized minorities in Pakistan. He was always on the side of the oppressei and worked tirelessly to promote justice, tolerance, and harmony among the adherents of different religious traditions.

He left behind a "spiritual testament" which we find very moving, and we'd like to share an excerpt with you:

The text and photo have been reprinted with permission of Mr Sandro Magister, Italian journalist for the weekly paper "L'Espresso."

"I was born into a Catholic family. My father, a retired teacher, and my mother, a housewife, raised me according to Christian values and the teachings of the Bible, which influenced my childhood.

Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church.

"The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.

"I have been asked to put an end to my battle, but I have always refused, even at the risk of my own life. My response has always been the same. I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.   I want to live for Christ and it is for Him that I want to die. I do not feel any fear in this country. Many times the extremists have wanted to kill me, imprison me; they have threatened me, persecuted me, and terrorized my family.

"I say that, as long as I am alive, until the last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus and this poor, suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor. I believe that the Christians of the world who have reached out to the Muslims hit by the tragedy of the earthquake of 2005 have built bridges of solidarity, of love, of comprehension, and of tolerance between the two religions. If these efforts continue, I am convinced that we will succeed in winning the hearts and minds of the extremists. This will produce a change for the better: the people will not hate, will not kill in the name of religion, but will love each other, will bring harmony, will cultivate peace and comprehension in this region."

Cecile Jeanne with ShameemCecile Jeanne with Shameem

The Little Sisters tell the story of another, less well-known Christian they know who is filled with the same spirit:

Shameem is a devout Christian from a poor family, mother of five children. One day she was at the hospital with her daughter, who was sick, and in the next bed was a young Muslim woman, even poorer than themselves. She was being tended to by her mother-in-law.

The woman was in labor and needed an emergency operation, but she could not afford the operation, the surgeon, the medicine, the necessary transfusion... and Shameem heard the woman whisper to her mother-in-law, "Take me away from here, or you won't have enough left to pay for my burial!"

Shameem was deeply moved. No matter that she was Christian and the other was Muslim, she had to do something. She went from bed to bed asking for donations from the families of the patients. She spoke to the surgeon, who agreed not to charge for his services, and to the hospital director, who offered to donate whatever medicines he had in the pharmacy, while Shameem's son-in-law agreed to pay for the others. There remained only the transfusion.

Shameem left the room and happened upon a young soldier. "Salaam aleikum, brother! You look healthy and strong!" And she told him the story of the young woman.

"Yes, I'm ready to donate my blood, and also to pay for the medical tests, and anything else she may need!" His blood type turned out to be compatible, the woman was operated on, and she gave birth to a pretty little girl.

After telling me the story, Shameem said to me, "I forgot to ask her address. I would have liked to know the little girl as she grew up!"

There is an Urdu proverb which says, "Do good, and throw it in the river."

Shameem has health problems, and her little girl has cancer. She continues to struggle, to move forward in trust. "God can't abandon me." She asks that we pray for her.

Like Shahbaz Bhatti she is a light of hope for me...