By Peter Jennings.
Archbishop Bernard Longley presided and preached at a special Mass to pray for peace in Pakistan, held at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 3 April.
Bishop Anders Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm, Sweden and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scandinavia, and his Vicar General, who were attending a conference in Birmingham, together with Canon Gerry Breen, Cathedral Dean and Fr Jeremy Howard, Chairman of the Archdiocese of Birmingham Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue, concelebrated with the Archbishop of Birmingham.
The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Len Gregory and the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Gillian Gregory, together with Dr Saeed Khan Mohmand, the Consul General of Pakistan, were among the congregation that included members of other faiths.
A framed picture of Shabhaz Bhatti bedecked with two Pakistan national flags stood on a lectern in a place of honour next to the sanctuary steps.
During his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley said that the Mass was being offered for the repose of the soul of Minister Shabhaz Bhatti; and to pray for God’s peace to prevail among all peoples and in particular in Pakistan.
The Archbishop of Birmingham said: We are very mindful today of all those places where people’s lives have ended in violence. As we pray for Shabhaz Bhatti we also remember those who died yesterday in Afghanistan, and Police Constable Ronan Kerr, aged 25, who died after a device exploded under his car outside his home in Omagh, in Northern Ireland.
“We pray for peaceful solutions to the differences that divide communities across the world even as we thank God for the peaceful co-operation and friendships that unite the varied faith communities of our city.”
Archbishop Longley continued: “Especially today we recall the life of Shabhaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities who died tragically and violently at the age of forty-two, in Islamabad on 2 March.
“As a member of the Cabinet of the Federal Government of Pakistan he witnessed to his faith by working for peaceful co-operation between all sectors of society. In particular he sought to make a difference to the lives of the minority groups in Pakistan as he spoke out for moderation and tolerance. You may recall that he was trying to ameliorate the impact of the law regarding blasphemy so that it could not be misused in the pursuit of personal grudges.”
The Archbishop emphasised: “A practising Catholic himself, Shabhaz Bhatti’s death reminds us of the suffering and fears of other Christians and we pray that the sacrifices he made may bear some fruits of unity for all the people of Pakistan.
“Some time before he died Shabhaz Bhatti recorded a message which gives a powerful insight into his life and his faith in Christ. His own eyes were open to the sufferings of many people and his faith drove him to do all that he could to serve the cause of justice and peace.
“In his recorded message he said: Jesus has given me power and wisdom and motivation to serve suffering humanity. I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe.”
Earlier Archbishop Longley said that Laetare Sunday – Rejoicing Sunday – half way through Lent, was also Mothering Sunday and “a welcome opportunity to give thanks to God for our own mothers and for all mothers in their dedication to their families.”
Post Script: On the same day as the special Mass was celebrated in Birmingham, a triple suicide bombing in Pakistan killed at least 40 people gathered for an annual three-day Sufi religious festival. Sufis are a minority Muslim group who follow mystical beliefs.
The suicide bombers blew themselves up after they were stopped by police outside the crowded Sufi shrine in the Dera Ghazi Khan district in the Eastern Province of Punjab. Dozens of other people were injured in the deadly attack.