Catholics in Pakistan have been rejoicing since Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore on January 31 announced that the Vatican had accepted Akash Bashir as a Servant of God, paving the way for the first saint from Pakistan.
The 20-year-old lay Catholic stopped a suicide bomber from entering a crowded St. John’s Catholic Church in the Youhanabad area of Lahore on March 15, 2015. Bashir was one of at least 15 people who died in the attack that also left more than 70 wounded. A nearby Protestant church was attacked simultaneously.
On March 15, 2022, Archbishop Shaw celebrated a Mass that began the process of Akash’s beatification. Archbishop Zakhia El Kassis, the papal nuncio to Pakistan, paid tribute to Akash:
“Akash Bashir, a young man, sacrificed his life for his brothers and sisters who prayed in church. He discovered that there is something much greater than this early life. And he understood it without studying theology o philosophy. He lived a simple life, following Jesus every day, every moment, even when his hour was not expected.”
Father Francis Gulzar, parish priest of St. John’s Catholic Church was saying Mass that fatal Sunday. He spoke with Aid to the Church about the sacrifice of Akash.
“Foremost, I am alive because of him. I give thanks for this life I have because of him. More than a thousand faithful present at that time in and near the church thank him. The suicide bomber didn’t come for Akash Bashir but for me and the worshippers. But Akash became a wall to protect us.
“Akash was my young man, my son. He announced his sincerity by embracing martyrdom. I thank him from completing his responsibility. I thank his parents for keeping the cause alive.
“We thank God for blessing us with such brave youth who preferred his faith over his life. Young people were especially invited to the March 15 Mass, so that they could learn how to support their Church and their nation. “Akash accomplished his feat in service of the people of God. Yes, his life was short, but his work was huge. He made it clear that he was a true Christian.
“In these past seven years, we have never forgotten Akash in our Church. We always celebrate his birthday. We organize processions and rallies in his honor in Youhanabad. Our youth and children pray at his grave. Our bishop strongly appreciates these initiatives. His school principals and teachers always pay tribute to Akash as well.
“It’s a moment of pride and honor for the Church of Pakistan. We are still a young Church since Pakistan was only formed in 1947. A Church strengthens and develops when it makes sacrifices. Many people have made sacrifices for our country but were not recognized. Despite being a minority, the Christians of Pakistan have been a strong witness of Christ through their contributions in the field of education and health.
“I thank our security volunteers who still stand at the church gate during the liturgy and programs with new courage. These include Akash’s 27-year-old brother Arsalan who is among 52 guards — both male and female — protecting St. John’s Church now. He tries to continue the service of Akash who taught them how to protect our churches and our faith.
“I thank the Holy Father and the whole Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which accepted our case that was bolstered by more than hundred witnesses. The Salesians played a major role in completing this process. As the preliminary phase completes, our efforts are now focused on bringing the bigger news for the Church of Pakistan.
“We have found a new strength and religious passion after the recognition of Akash as a Servant of God. I pray that many Pakistanis may participate in the eventual beatification ceremony of Akash in Rome. This “is very important.
In words of Tertullian, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Reprinted with permission from Aid to the Church in Need USA.