5th Annual Commemoration of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti
5th Annual Commemoration of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti
On Saturday, March 5, 2016, International Christian Voice (ICV) held an event in commemoration and celebration of the life of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti at the Canadian Coptic Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.More than 450 people attended the event. As it was Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti’s 5th death anniversary, ICV organized this event to gather members of the Canadian and Pakistani community, including government officials and community leaders, to pay tribute to the life and legacy of our great hero and to recommit our joint efforts in carrying forward his mission to liberate the oppressed religious minorities of Pakistan. The purpose of the event was to remember the sacrifice of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti and all other liberal thinkers in Pakistan who devoted their lives to the cause of religious equality in Pakistan and around the world.
The event began with a welcoming by ICV Vice Chairman Mr. Tanveer Joseph, who was also the Master of Ceremonies for the evening.
The opening remarks were given by Mrs. Eliza Charles, ICV Treasurer, who briefed the audience on the struggle and passion of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti. She reiterated the meaning behind the organizing of this event and explained what Shahbaz Bhatti’s legacy means to the religious minorities of Pakistan while encouraging all in attendance to carry forward his mission.
Rev Pastor Samuel Gori said the opening prayer as the evening’s program commenced.
A candle light tribute in honour of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti then took place, which included the lighting of candles by honourable guests, distinguished community leaders and pastors and the family of Shahbaz Bhatti. During the ceremony, singer Ms. Nina Manhilot performed a touching tribute song in memory of Shahbaz Bhatti.
Following the candle lighting ceremony, a tribute by Shahbaz Bhatti’s nieces and nephew was presented along with a live musical accompaniment by Carolyn and Joanna Dass. Throughout the tribute, Nitasha Bhatti, David Bhatti, Kristina Yousif, and Jennifer Yousif provided insight into the lifelong struggle of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti from his early years of helping the poor children in his village and fighting for religious equality in his schools through to his final years as federal minister, calling for the amendment of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and raising the plight of religious minorities on an international level.
A presentation of the situation of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in Thailand was given by Ms. Sara Joseph, who along with other ICV delegates visited Thailand in October 2015. Ms. Joseph highlighted the dire situation these asylum seekers were in and explained in detail the suffering that they faced at the hands of Thai immigration police. Following her presentation which included photographs and video testimonials, she called on the Canadian community to assist these asylum seekers in any way possible and stressed the importance of taking action on such issues.The first speech of the evening was given by Ms. Noreen Azaria, who paid tribute to the struggle of Shahbaz Bhatti and called for the community to collectively carry forward Shahbaz Bhatti’s mission for interfaith harmony in Pakistan and around the world.
Rev Father Angelos Saad, Chair Canadian Coptic Centre then reflected on the life and mission of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti, speaking of his courageous efforts to stand against terrorism and religious persecution. Father Saad commended the efforts of Shahbaz Bhatti and honoured his sacrifice as a follower of Christian values and principles.
Honourable Raj Grewal, M.P. for Brampton East, addressed the community by congratulating ICV for their great work for human rights and religious freedom. He then proceeded to pay tribute to Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti by highlighting his accomplishments as a political leader and honouring his tireless efforts to promote religious equality. Mr. Grewal assured ICV and the community that the Canadian government stands with them in their mission to carry forward the legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti.
Honourable Garnett Genuis, M.P. for Sherwood Park – Fort Saskatchewan, provided a personal reflection on the life of Shahbaz Bhatti, highlighting the Christian dedication of love and sacrifice that he carried in his life as a political and social leader. He stressed that it was Shahbaz Bhatti’s faith that drove him to be the selfless leader that he was and that his dedication to his cause and community was based in the Christian lessons that he grew up with. He encouraged the community to follow in Shahbaz Bhatti’s example to work for the good of others. He also shared a letter from CPC leader Rona Ambrose who also paid tribute to the life and legacy of Shahbaz Bhatti while committing to carry forward Canada’s role on religious freedom.
Honourable Jagmeet Singh, Deputy Leader of Ontario’s NDP party and M.P.P for Bramalea – Gore – Malton was also present and thanked ICV for organizing this event. Mr. Singh shared the inspiration that Shahbaz Bhatti brought into his life as a selfless leader in country where intolerance and religious inequality is rampant and widespread. He also shared that Shahbaz Bhatti’s determination in the face of adversity was an encouraging sentiment for the entire community to follow in order to raise the issue of religious freedom around the world.
ICV was honoured to have Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, partake in this event. Dr. Lantos Swett addressed the community and spoke of the impact Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti had on the human rights and religious freedom community in the United States. She spoke of the many challenges that Pakistan is facing in regards to the intolerance and inequality that has plagued the nation as a whole. She spoke of Shahbaz Bhatti’s integrity and conviction in fighting for religious freedom in Pakistan and encouraged the community to follow his example.
ICV Chairman, Mr. Peter Bhatti, thanked all in attendance for showing their solidarity and support to ICV on the fifth commemoration and celebration of the life and legacy of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti. Mr. Bhatti spoke about the vision of a democratic and pluralistic society that Pakistan’s founder had for his nation, which was the same vision that Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti sacrificed his life for. He also stressed the importance of helping refugees and asylum seekers around the world and called on the Canadian government to take action on this issue, while stressing the importance of keeping Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom running.
The President of CCA, Roger Sampson, and Vice President Noel Chaudhry also shared their thoughts on the life and legacy of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti. They spoke of his effectiveness as a Christian politician and leader in Pakistan and admired his stance and vocal opposition of Pakistan’s discriminatory laws. CCA commended the action taken by all organizations working to keep the mission of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti alive and committed to work alongside the community to assist the helpless, victimized people of Pakistan.
Honourable Asghar Ali Golo, Consul General of Pakistan, Toronto, was also present and addressed the community regarding Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti’s role in raising the voice of all religious minorities in Pakistan. Mr. Golo spoke of the unfortunate events throughout history that led Pakistan to reach state it is in today and gave his assurance that he would continue to work alongside all Pakistani’s to create a prosperous and tolerant Pakistan.
Dr. Emmanuel Aziz was the final speaker for the evening and he outlined the oppression that minorities in Pakistan have faced throughout history. Dr. Aziz highlighted the contributions and achievements of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti towards all religious minorities of Pakistan and paid tribute to his life and legacy. The President of Red Shawl, Mrs. Zari Gill addressed the community on the great work that Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti started on the reformation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and stressed that concrete steps must be taken by the Pakistan community abroad to fulfill the work that Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti began. She also committed to working alongside ICV and other organizations to create a better life for helpless Pakistani Christian refugees and asylum seekers.
ICV executives Mr.Qamar Andreas and Max Gill were honoured by ICV for their work and commitment within the organization to continue the legacy of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti .
ICV executive member Max Gill wrapped up the program by thanking all in attendance.
Professor Dr. David Koyzis and Rev Dr. Nancy Koyzis said the closing prayer and grace for dinner which was followed by another performance by Ms. Manhilot.