Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was convicted last November of violating Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. The blasphemy laws give life imprisonment to those convicted of insulting the Quran and the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammed, respectively. Pakistani Christians say that the law is used to discriminate against the minority Christian population.
“The law is abused and manipulated for petty reasons and it is time to repeal it to make Pakistan a modern country,” said Bishop Rufin Anthony of Isalamabad-Rawalpindi.
On March 2, Pakistan’s minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic who had been seeking to overturn Bibi’s death penalty and an end to the country’s anti-blasphemy laws, was assassinated. Gunmen fired automatic weapons through the window of his car as he was being driven to work in Islamabad. At his funeral Mass in Kushpur, more than 20,000 Christians from throughout Pakistan came to mourn and pay their respects.
In other Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, Iraq and Sudan, Christians are targets of violence by extremist groups. Last October, Islamic militants with ties to al-Qaida killed 58 people, including two priests, when they stormed a Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, it’s been estimated that more than half of Iraq’s Christian community — 800,000 to 1.4 million — have left the country.
It is hard to imagine the terror and suffering our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world experience simply by trying to live out their faith. In our country, we have the freedom to publicly celebrate religious observances throughout the year. Think of the public Stations of the Cross held in cities like Chicago and Milwaukee. Christians in other parts of the world know that such public celebrations would make them easy targets of violence.
This year at the Easter Vigil or at Easter Sunday Mass, let us offer a special prayer for Christians around the world who must secretly or discreetly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. May their hearts be as joyous as ours, even though their alleluias are subdued.