Pope Francis manifests profound love and care for Pakistani Christians Lauds sacrifice of
Shahbaz Bhatti and bridges of fraternity among Christians and religions.
Pope Francis addressing the delegation“I offer you a cordial welcome, and through you I send my greetings to all the Christians of Pakistan, especially those experiencing great hardships.” These are the words of His Holiness Pope Francis which he said while addressing a distinguished delegation of Christian religious leaders and laity from Pakistan and Italy in the private audience in the Vatican on 30th of November, 2018. This meeting was organized by the Association Missione Shahbaz Bhatti under the able leadership of Dr Paul Bhatti – the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti.
Lauding the sacrifice of Shahbaz Bhatti who was assassinatedin a brutal attack by the extremists in Pakistan on 2nd of March, 2011, Pope said, “….his sacrifice is bearing much fruits of hope. The words of Jesus apply to him; “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”(Jn 12.24). Fruit in dialogue, understanding reconciliation, fruit in strength, courage and meekness.”
While encouraging the Pakistani Christians and their firm faith and endurance in all kinds of circumstance sometime hardship and in building bridges of fraternity among Christians and religions, Pope Francis said, “Bridges of fraternity above all between the Churches and ecclesial communities themselves ….. But also bridges of fraternity and dialogue with other believers, for the sake of fostering relationships of respect and mutual trust.”
Pope Francis entering the meeting hallPope Francis supported the noble cause of Association Missione Shahbaz Bhatti and said; “I encourage you to persevere in this evangelical witness, who joins firmness to meekness, inorder to assist victims of false accusations and to find concrete ways to combat poverty and modern forms of slavery.” He gave a very inspiring message toremain firm in our Christian faith while looking at the martyrs of our times and witness of strong faith given by Shahbaz Bhatti. He expressed his deep sadness at the occasions when Christians are discriminate against. Pope Francis inspired to foster love and not hatred while saying; “a humble and courageous faith in the Lord Jesus and the capacity to bring love in place of hatred.” His Holiness thanked the delegation for the visit and assured of his prayers and blessings, “I thank you for the gifts of this visit. I accompany you with my prayers and my blessings, which I ask you to share with all whom you encounter in your work in Pakistan. And I ask you, please pray for me.”
Dr Paul Bhatti meeting Pope FrancisAt the beginning of this special audience Dr Paul Bhatti thanked His Holiness for this blissful opportunity and introduced the aims and objection of the Association Missione Shahbaz Bhatti and also introduced distinguished members of this delegations which included; Archbishop Gianfranco AgostinorGardin, Archbishop of Treviso, Archbishop, Bressan Luigi, Archbishop Emeritus of Trent, Italy and former Apostolic Nuncio in Pakistan, Fr James Channan OP, Director, Peace Center, Lahore and Bishop Humphery Peter, Bishop of Peshawar, (Church of Pakistan), Dr Paul Bhatti, President of the Shahbaz Bhatti Mission Association and Fr. D’’Alfonso Francesco, Vice President of the association.
I was honoured to be part of this delegation to have private audience with Pope Francis. It was a great spiritual joy for me to be part of this delegation and listen the very inspiring and precious words of Pope Francis for the Christians in Pakistan who have strong faith and times face hardships, discrimination and persecutions. Our Christians have a very strong faith which Pope Francis has also recognized and lauded. We as Christians have an important role to play in our country and to build bridges of respect, tolerance and acceptance and to further foster ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Although we a tiny minority of about 1.8% in the country we have an important role to play as “Salt of Earth and Light of the world.” (Matthew 5. 13-14)
Meeting with the Pope has offered us a lot of encouragement for the noble task and mission of promoting justice, peace, ecumenical and inter religious dialogue. I cannot explain enough in words that how grateful I am to Pope Francis for his love, care and prayers for us and our work – as he is our Holy Father and vicar of Jesus Christ on earth. I am sure this meeting will bring many positive results in the coming years in our country and especially in other places where Christians are in minority.God bless our Holy Father abundantly and grant him a long and healthy life. God bless Pakistan!
Fr. James Channan OP
Peace Center, Lahore