VATICAN CITY — Servant of God Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic politician from Pakistan who was killed in 2011, is a witness of how to act with love in the face of hatred, Pope Francis said Friday.

Speaking to a Pakistani association named for Bhatti, the Pope said Nov 30, “May your hallmark always be the one that shines in the testimony of Shahbaz Bhatti and of many other martyrs of our time, namely, humble and courageous faith in the Lord Jesus and the capacity to bring love in place of hatred.”

Pope Francis praised the witness of the namesake of the “Shahbaz Bhatti Mission” association, whose cause for sainthood was opened by the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi in March 2016.

“I am delighted to know that today [Bhatti] is loved and esteemed by many in Pakistan and that his sacrifice is bearing rich fruits of hope,” he said. “The words of Jesus apply also 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.’”

This fruit, he continued, is found “in dialogue, understanding and reconciliation; fruit in strength, courage and meekness.”

Bhatti, who served as Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities affairs from 2008 until his assassination in March 2011 at the age of 42, was at the time the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet.   

The Taliban claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s death, declaring him a “blasphemer of Muhammad” because of his Christian faith.

When he took office, Bhatti said he had dedicated his life to the “struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom and to uplift and empower the religious minorities’ communities” and that he accepted the post for the sake of the “oppressed, downtrodden and marginalized.”

“Jesus is the nucleus of my life, and I want to be his true follower through my actions by sharing the love of God with the poor, oppressed, victimized, needy and suffering people of Pakistan,” he said.

Bhatti promised that as a federal minister he would “propose legislative reforms for the promotion and protection of minorities’ rights” and would “speed up efforts to promote unity and understanding to tackle the issues of intolerance, hatred, prejudice and violence.”

As a member of Pakistan’s ministerial cabinet, he supported religious minorities in several ways, including launching a national campaign promoting interfaith relations. In 2010 he led the organization of a National Interfaith Consultation in Pakistan, which resulted in a joint declaration against terrorism.

Before his career in parliament, in 1985, he founded Pakistan’s Christian Liberation Front and, in 2002, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance movement, which fought against blasphemy laws used to persecute religious minorities, particularly Christians.

Bhatti had begun to receive death threats in 2009, but they increased in 2010, after he showed support for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010 and who remained on death row until her acquittal by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in October 2018.

He was killed by gunshot while traveling by car to work March 2, 2011, in Islamabad.

In a video he recorded before his death, Bhatti had said, “I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community ... and I will die to defend their rights.”

“One of the fruits of the suffering of Christians,” Pope Francis told the Bhatti association Nov. 30, “is the multiplication of groups and associations — like yours — that build bridges of fraternity across the world.”

“I hope that, supported by prayer and by the active solidarity of many, you can extend your action in all areas of Pakistan where Christians and other minorities are more present and, unfortunately, also discriminated against and subjected to abuses and violence.”