Pope Francis was praying the Way of the Cross with the young people in Rio de Janeiro. At the second Station (Jesus receives the Cross) he said: “With Christ, evil, suffering and death do not have the last word, because he gives us hope and life: he has transformed the Cross from being an instrument of hate, defeat and death to being a sign of love, victory, triumph and life.”
This is exactly what the martyrs do, in imitation of Christ. In Lahore, young Akash Bashir knew that the Islamist extremist wearing a suicide belt was trying to get into St John’s Church and that he was the only person who stood between the killer and the 2,000 people praying inside at Sunday Mass. So he held him back, saying, “You’re not getting through, even if I have to die for it.” Those were his last words; the killer detonated his bomb. That was five years ago, during Lent. For the young people of Lahore diocese Akash Bashir is a hero. They will never forget him. Many of them have decided to volunteer as security guards outside their churches. They are ready to give their lives for Christ, just as Bashir did. The same is true in other dioceses of Pakistan. And there is the ever-present possibility that Christians in Pakistan will suffer harassment, or even lose their lives, because of their faith. They face the constant threat of Islamist attacks on their churches, or of being arbitrarily thrown into prison if they are accused of blasphemy.
And yet these young people are happy to be able to serve the Church, even in this hostile anti-Christian environment. According to Bishop Joseph Arshad, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, the level of vocations to the priesthood and religious life is at a high level. In his own diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi alone, there are currently over 30 seminarians. The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the Church. The Catholic Church in Pakistan is a youthful Church. The great majority of those attending Mass are young adults, adolescents and children. That is why the Church in Pakistan has proclaimed the year 2020 as the Year of Youth. One of the Church’s greatest challenges is educating young people. Akash Bashir attended the Salesian school. He was one of the lucky ones. For most Christian children and teenagers attending school is no more than a dream. There are too few of schools and their parents can’t afford the fees. However, the diocese of Faisalabad has organised a programme for all the young people, in order to help them to find answers to the social and religious issues facing Death does not have the last word Pakistan The joy of serving the Church and living the faith: Akash Bashir is an inspiration for these young Christians too. them.
It also covers such things as cyber bullying, social networks and relations with Islam. During weekend courses, summer camps and workshops young people will be made aware of the potential dangers of the Internet, learn more about their own faith and that of their Muslim neighbours, and discover the importance of the human and Christian virtues. ACN is supporting the programme with €7,150. “The future lies with the young”, said Father Khalid Mukhtar, the coordinator of the programme. And it was for this future likewise that Akash Bashir gave his life. Because, as Pope Francis said in Rio, “The Cross gives us a treasure that no one else can give: the certainty of the faithful love which God has for us.”