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Jerry Costello

A Modern Martyr in Pakistan

Most of us are lucky enough to just “go to church” each week. We do so without a thought to our personal safety, and, in most cases, without a word of thanks. After all, in our minds there’s barely a reason to do either. But that’s not the case in some other spots in the world—including sections of Pakistan, where a recent incident points to the fact that the matter of simply going to church can be a risky business indeed.

                The hero of the story is Akash Bashir, whose tale is told by Kamran Chaudhry’s report in Our Sunday Visitor. Bashir was a young man of 20 who resisted a deadly attack on a Catholic church in Lahore, helping to protect some 2,000 worshipers inside by confronting a suicide bomber and sacrificing his own life. As a result, he’s a candidate for canonization and is in line to become Pakistan’s first saint.

                Bashir got that way by taking a chance. An altar boy growing up in a northern province of the country, he joined the security team of St. John Catholic Church in Lahore. He did so despite the misgivings of his parents, who initially balked at signing the volunteer permission card.

                “I felt scared, and he gave me strength,” said his mother, Naaz Bano. “We miss him so much.”

                On the day of the attack Bashir prevented a bomber from entering the church, although 17 people were killed and dozens wounded when suicide bombers stormed St. John’s and another nearby church. They were attacked simply because they were Christian.

                “While others were victims,” said Father Francis Gulzar of St. John’s, “he grabbed the man wearing the suicide vest and prevented him from entering the building.” Grappling with the man, Bashir gave up his own life.

                A memorial plaque has been put up, and a booklet has been printed documenting Bashir’s life—the first step toward his eventual canonization. The bishops of Pakistan will soon meet to discuss his sainthood cause.

                Going to Mass each week in that region is quite different from our experience here in the U.S., something we would do well to keep in mind. As Chaudhry’s report in OSV points out, roads leading to St. John Church (and the Anglican Christ Church) are blocked each week amid tight police security. The pastor of the Anglican community reported finding a threatening note in the collection basket. 

                The number of women volunteers for the security detail has increased from 10 to 35 since Bashir’s death, and now more than 40 youth members guard the church’s main entrance and surrounding streets.

                Several families have left the area since the terrorists blew themselves up, and two more Muslims, suspected of being terrorists themselves, were lynched by people shortly after the bombings. Christian leaders have attempted to discourage this kind of mindless retaliation, but the pastor of Christ Church nevertheless offered a grim assessment of the situation:        

                “Our life is not the same anymore.” 


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