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Friday, March 2, 2018

International Christian Voice (ICV) held its second fundraiser gala in support of refugee families on the occasion of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti’s 7th death anniversary on Friday, March 2nd, 2018.

Gala 2018 3The gala, which was held at Westmount Event Centre in the city of Vaughan, Ontario was attended by distinguished human rights activists, representatives from the Canadian government, and residents of the Greater Toronto Area. The purpose of the event was to carry forward the legacy of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti – Pakistan’s most renowned Christian freedom fighter who was assassinated on March 2, 2011 for his stance against religious intolerance in Pakistan – by raising funds to sponsor a deserving Pakistani refugee family suffering in Thailand. Organized with the strong support of Weston Road Pentecostal Church and the events many other generous donors, the Shahbaz Bhatti Memorial Gala highlighted the plight of victimized and persecuted Christians around the world.

The evening’s Master of Ceremonies, Dr. Colin Saldanha, was introduced by Ms. Nitasha Bhatti, executive member of ICV, for the commencement of the program. Dr. Saldanha, a practicing family physician with an esteemed public service record, opened the event by thanking all attendees for their presence. He provided the audience with an overview of the evening’s proceedings and stressed the importance of helping those who are suffering because of their religious beliefs around the world. He acknowledged the efforts of International Christian Voice in arranging a successful fundraiser last year, through which a persecuted refugee family was able to come to Canada and encouraged everyone to continue contributing towards such significant causes, stating that “there is work to be done, money to be delivered, and bleeding hearts to be attended to”.

Pastor Jonathan Manna, lead Pastor at Weston Road Pentecostal Church, said the opening prayer and blessed the evening’s dinner and proceedings.
The Canadian national anthem was sung, and dinner was served in courses throughout the evening.

Opening remarks were given by Toronto City Councillor Vincent Crisanti who thanked ICV for nourishing culture and traditions across Canada and worldwide by promoting religious freedom. Speaking of the fundraising initiative, he stated that such efforts are important because they “raise awareness, rally communities around a common goal and inspire people to give from the heart”. Councillor Cristanti expressed his hope to continue to sponsor refugee families in the future in honour of Shahbaz Bhatti’s legacy, and thanked ICV and its supporters on behalf of the city of Toronto.

Hamraj Gill, who on behalf of Member of Parliament Ruby Sahota brought greetings from the Canadian Government, said that it was “because of organizations like ICV that Canada is seen as a leader in human rights around the world”. MP Sahota, in her message, thanked ICV and its supporters for continuing to strengthen diversity in Canada and wished them her best for their fundraising initiatives.

Mr. Javed Baksh, former President of Pakistan Armed Forces Association of Canada and Chairman of Christian newspaper Dharkan, shed light on the persecution that Christians of Pakistan face today. He highlighted Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and spoke of issues surrounding mob justice and forceful conversion that Christians and other minorities face on a regular basis. He appealed to the audience to “speak up for persecuted minorities in Pakistan because it will make a difference one step at a time”.

M.C. Dr. Saldanha took to the stage to invite the Faris family, a widowed mother and her three young children whom ICV sponsored in 2017, for an interview through which they could share their testimony. Aanya Faris, 17, revealed through a firsthand account the persecution and victimization that Christians in Pakistan face daily. She explained that she and her family were forced to flee to Thailand from Pakistan due to a local cleric’s insistence that the family convert to Islam, following which their struggle in Thailand began. Her father, Ayub Faris, was severely injured while working underground in Thailand and died of his injuries, leaving the family “without any hope”. She explained that ICV visited them in Thailand in 2015 and promised to bring them to Canada, a promise that was fulfilled in 2017, and expressed her gratitude towards all those who have supported the family. Her brothers Hasroon, 16, and Joy, 10, also thanked ICV and its supporters, while their mother, Farhat, was overcome with emotions of gratefulness and pleaded with attendees to remember and support refugee families that continue to suffer around the world.

A video tribute, presented by Tag TV, was then shown, highlighting the life and legacy of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti while displaying a historical overview of religious intolerance in Pakistan.

Vice President of The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, Anthony Floyd, paid tribute to Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti by acknowledging his courage and bravery in the face of adversity. Mr. Floyd encouraged the crowd to do more than just remember his sacrifice, but to partake in “active remembrance” which goes beyond giving money. He stressed the importance of prayer “because it is the number one request of persecuted Christians around the world” and because it allows us all to “share in the suffering and persecution of our brothers and sisters…because we are indeed one body”.

Deacon Rudy Ovcjak, Director of Operations for the Office of Refugees of the Archdiocese of Toronto, spoke of the Archdiocese’s efforts in lobbying politicians, through the support of the community, to make the necessary changes that allow the Catholic Church to sponsor refugees such as the Faris family through Canada’s private sponsorship program. He stated that “the problem of hatred and religious intolerance lies in the heart of man” and that like Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti, everyone must play their role to do what they can to address the suffering of persecuted people around the world.

Nominees from Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party Sara Mallo, Simmer Sandhu, and Sharaf El Sabawy congratulated ICV for its fundraising efforts in support of refugee families and paid tribute to the life and legacy of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti.

Mr. Abubakar Masood, a proud donor of the Shahbaz Bhatti Memorial Gala, motivated and encouraged the crowd to support persecuted minorities across the planet and “to come together as a community to support the next project for the Khurram family”.

Chairman of International Christian Voice, Peter Bhatti, thanked the evening’s distinguished speakers and guests for taking the initiative to partake in the evening’s fundraiser; for “creating dialogue about religious intolerance, and working towards building interfaith harmony”. He also recognized and applauded the important work that ICV’s organizing committee has done in arranging for a successful fundraiser. In closing, he expressed his gratitude towards the generous support of all attendees and pledged to continue to work to uplift the marginalized and oppressed religious minorities of Pakistan and the entire world, as per the vision and legacy of Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti.

Dr. Colin Saldanha in closing once again thanked all guests, encouraging all to continue to think about and remember disenfranchised and persecuted refugees around the world.

Mr. Samuel Inayat delivered a touching tribute to Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti through song to close off the evening’s program. Anna Roger and Ritu Nab also provided entertainment throughout the evening.

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Exclusive footage of Shahbaz Bhatti\'s interview

Sara Sumbal needs your help

Sara’s Story

My name is Sara Sumbal. My family and I are asylum seekers in Bangkok, Thailand. We fled our home in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2013 when we became victims of persecution after my father, a Christian evangelist, was labeled a blasphemer under the Blasphemy Law for evangelising a Muslim man. My father was initially threatened by two Muslim clerics to stop evangelising or they would kill him and his family. They then ordered him to convert to Islam and all would be well. When he refused, they and the male members of the Muslim man’s family beat him unconscious and left him for dead on a garbage heap. 

          Sara with her family prior to their detention

After my father’s recovery, the extremists threatened him again with death because he continued holding prayer meetings. Because we were traumatised and terrified, our family fled form Karachi to a friend’s home in the city of Bahawalpur.


Backgrounder - Diefenbaker Award and Recipients Shahbaz Bhatti

Shahbaz Bhatti was elected to the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2008 and named Federal Minister for Minorities a portfolio he accepted because of the opportunity it offered to defend the oppressed and marginalized of Pakistan.