respectable ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, it is a great honor and a joy to be here among you. I am very grateful to Pope Francis for granting me this opportunity to share the sorrows and the hopes of Christians in Pakistan with you all.
In my Country, Christians are a small and very poor minority. The faith in Jesus, the love for the Gospel and the unity with our mother Church, are our only treasure. Many times we suffer discrimination, even violence, as it has recently happened in Lahore, where more than 100 houses of a Christian neighborhood were burned, invoking the blasphemy law. It’s a law that someone often uses for personal purposes. But, being disciples of Jesus, we want to be men of peace, in dialogue with our Muslim brothers and with other religions. We want to bear witness to the love and mercy of our faith in Jesus.
That was the testimony conveyed by my younger brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, who gave his life for the Gospel. He has been killed by extremists when he was 43 years old.
Shahbaz had started his mission among the poor and marginalized, while he was attending school in our village, Khushpur. One Good Friday, in front of the cross of Jesus, he felt called – these are his own words - to "match that love by Him by giving love to our brothers and sisters, devoting myself to serve Christians, especially the poor, needy and persecuted ones who live in this Islamic Country. "
Thus, throughout his life, despite adversity and threats, he has been faithful to his mission, namely to be with the poor, to witness Jesus’ love, to work in order to ensure that the love and the ability to live together could succeed even in such a divided and violent society like Pakistan. The needy, the poor, the orphans -he claimed- "are the persecuted and needy part of the body of Christ".
He dreamed of a Pakistan peaceful and free from any discrimination, where believers of all faiths could enjoy equal rights, religious freedom and equal opportunity for the progress of the Country.
After he became Federal Minister for Minorities, he worked so that harmony, tolerance and equality could be implemented in a free society. He never ceased to be with the poor. When Pakistan was hit by floods and earthquakes, Shahbaz was there, close the ones who suffered.
We asked him to be careful, because his life was in a serious danger, but he smiled saying: "I put myself in the hands of Jesus and he will protect me."
His faith was nourished by prayer and by a constant reading of the Gospel. Every morning, before leaving home, Shahbaz remained alone praying with his one Bible for half an hour at least.
Today that very Bible, really a true relic, is kept here in Rome, in the Basilica of St. Bartholomew, the memorial of new martyrs of our time; it is consigned to my friends of the Community of Sant'Egidio, to whom I am grateful. Christians in Pakistan are happy that his own Bible is here in Rome, close to the memory of so many new martyrs and of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Shahbaz Bhatti has given witness to Jesus Christ through his own blood. Indeed his life and his faith have beared fruit. After his death I could realize how many people loved him: many Christians, who in him had found a protection, a strong voice. But also many Muslims - ordinary people, scholars, imams of mosques - Hindus and Sikhs, crying and talking about him saying that he was a man of God. His great faith climbed the mountains of division so high in my country. It has sowed a love higher than these mountains.
His words and his gestures gave courage to Pakistani Christians. I'm back in my country -after been living far away by that time- to continue his mission, to promote interfaith harmony, for the education and development of poor and marginalized communities.
Like me, many other men and women of good will took his witness upon them. Today, in Pakistan, we Christians are not alone. After the violence few months ago, we received the solidarity of other religious communities: those Shahbaz had opened a dialogue with.
I’d like to ask you, Holy Father, your prayers and your support so that we can continue the mission of Shahbaz and be a powerful witness of Christ, bringing hope and peace, so that they may be all respected and loved. To be Christian really changes the life of a people!
Holy Father, I always keep in my heart your words pronounced on Holy Thursday: "Do not let the hope be stolen from you". I’d like to tell you that we Christians of Pakistan will not allow that trials or difficulties will steal our hope, which is founded on the love of Jesus and on the faith of the martyrs, but we will continue to witness to the Gospel of meekness, of dialogue, of love for enemies, of tenderness. This is our faith and we want to live this faith and if necessary to die for it, as Shahbaz did.
Dear friends, from the corner of my heart I’d like to ask you all to remain close to us Christians and to all people of Pakistan in communion and in prayer: that strengthens us and releases us from fear. May God bring peace to our Country and may He protect all the people who are victims of violence and discrimination because of their faith.
Do not forget us!