On Wilson's right John Sultan President of the Association of Pakistani Christians in Italy.
Pakistani Christians have a strong base in Italy and the Vatican.
Shahbaz Bhatti's Bible.
On the 2nd March 2012 Pakistani Christians across the globe organised memorials to martyr Shahbaz Bhatti. This now sacred day in the Urdu speaking Christian world became a day of reflection and a show of strength in adversity.
Several memorials in the UK; in Scotland, London, Nelson and other regions were equally matched in America, Holland, Pakistan, Australia, Canada and Italy. Of course this list is in no way complete, nor does it signify the weight of recognition of Shahbaz Bhatti's sacrifice and the international clamour of justice that resulted in many other memorials led by Christians of a non-Pakistani origin or background.
I was spoilt for choice with a large number of invitations but chose to attend the memorial organised by Associazione Pakistani Cristiani in Italia (Association of Pakistani Christians in Italy), at the Vatican University.
This high powered memorial was attended by two Bishops, Government Ministers, University professors, the Pakistani Ambassador to Italy and a whole host of other academics and Ecclesiastical leadership.
Faced with the usual British malaise of a poor grasp of foreign languages, I was unable to understand most of the presentations made by a host of very important speakers. Two Bishops, Italian Government officials, Wider clergy and Vatican University Professors gave presentations. Also Francesco Milano author of a recently published account of the life of Shahbaz Bhatti spoke of his the greatest of campaigns.
Francesco Milano her biography of Shahbaz Bhatti titled "Death of a Martyr" has received great acclaim.
However, Tehmina Janjua, Ambassador of Pakistan to Italy, Albania, San Marino and Slovenia spoke in English of the great work of Shahbaz Bhatti and his ultimate sacrifice linking him to a great number of Pakistani Martyrs. In her address however an opportunity to heal the wounds of a persecuted minority was missed, in her diatribe she attempted to subvert attention of the ongoing extremism in Pakistan towards minorities, by stating that the main concern there is terrorism.
Insurgents and Taliban militism is a significant concern, but at a convention reflecting on the loss of Christian Martyr killed for his opposition towards the blasphemy law of Pakistan and his support for freedom for Asia Bibi a mother of 5 who has been incarcerated for 2.5 years on false charges under this controversial law, illustrates a more insidious societal degeneration that has pervaded throughout Pakistan's Muslim majority. Perhaps she is unaware of the protests against Asia Bibi's release in Islamabad that saw over 50,000 participants from all walks of life howling for her death, or the mass support for Muhammed Qadri who broke Pakistan's record for Valentines card when he appeared in Court accused for the murder of assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer a Muslim humanitarian diametrically opposed to the same blasphemy laws as Shabaz Bhatti. Ambassador Tehima had to leave a good hour before the end of the meeting, denying an opportunity for further dialogue, however she shared exciting news that the memory of Shahbaz Bhatti will be enshrined in the naming of a new University in Islamabad in honour of him.
During his closing address Professor Mobeen Shahid the main organiser of the event thanked Wilson Chowdhry of the BPCA, for his commitment to the Humanitarian effort in Pakistan.
After the University memorial we had some refreshments in the foyer and I was able to meet a large number of Italian Christians some of Pakistani Origin. We exchanged contact details and I believe this was a first step towards a stronger relationship with our Christian Family in the region.
Later that evening a memorial was attended by over 100 people at the titular minor Basilica of Bartholomew on the Island. This Basilica right in the centre of Rome based on the picturesque Tiber Island has become a centre of reflection for martyrs in the Christian World. At the alter of the Basilica are the bone relics of the great disciple Bartholomew himself a Martyr, who is said to have evangelised in India by the writer Eusebius (437BC). A grand picture at the fore of the Basilica sets the tone of contemplation on the ultimate sacrifice by global Christians and a special shrine to Shahbaz Bhatti exists that includes his bible encased in glass.
In attendance where a large number of Pakistani Christian student priests studying at the Vatican, more than I imagined would be present in this spiritual centre for the Catholic Church. This show of force illustrated that our community can survive all adversity and will continue to achieve, simply as God is there for all his people who he empowers through his spirit. Moreover, I was bolstered that with such a strong presence of his beloved from Pakistan that news of their plight can never be stifled, a conduit exists for suffering Christians to seek justice and assistance.
The organiser of the events was Professor Mobeen Shahid who kindly gave shelter to my daughter Hannah and I for the duration of our stay. He also took us on a tour of Rome and the Vatican the following day. Two weeks older than me, he is a man to be admired for his achievement and compassion and the drive and determination to see justice done, that led to two 2nd March 2012 memorial events that achieved significant National media attention. The president of his group John Sultan deserves praise for being able to unite the Pakistani diaspora in Italy in a way that we still struggle with in the UK. This now should be a priority for Pakistani Christians in the UK.
Whilst visiting Pastor Shahbaz at Walthamstow Church on Sunday, he expressed his anguish that our brethren in the UK are still failing to overcome geographical, political and cultural differences, which is preventing our development into a strong body of believers ready to tackle the oppression meted out on our community in Pakistan. I will be meeting with him and hopefully other pastors after our 10th March 2012 event and hope that through unity amongst men of the cloth we too can heal the rifts in our community. If we are going to galvanise our people together it will not be through campaign groups like the BPCA, CSL or PMRO; nor will it be through Political groups like PTI, N-PML or APML. Unity for Christians living in the UK has to be driven by the ordained Ministers as God has chosen them to be shepherds of our people.
One thing I have learnt in Particular from this visit to Italy has been the revelation that unity is possible. My special thanks of appreciation are directed towards Professor Mobeen Shahid and John Sultan men who I envy (spiritually) for their passion and desire and the love that they resonate with. Please pray for the success of their group and for the people of Pakistan and for the continuing legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti.
Professor Mobeen Shahid and Gennaro Sguro who is forming an annual Shahbaz Bhatti Humanitarian Award ceremony using a trophy that was once presented by his group the Association of International Apostolic Catholics to Shahbaz Bhatti.
Don't forget our 10th March 2012 peace concert and protest march: