FaithWorld

Grief-stricken Pakistani Christians bury slain cabinet minister

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(People gather near the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti after a funeral ceremony inside a church in Islamabad March 4, 2011/Faisal Mahmood)

Shouting “death for killers”, thousands of Pakistanis on Friday buried Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s only Christian government minister who was killed by Pakistani Taliban for challenging a law that stipulates death for insulting Islam. His assassination on Wednesday was the latest sign violent religious conservatism is becoming more mainstream in Pakistan, a trend which could further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

Bhatti, a Catholic, was the second senior official to be assassinated this year for opposing the blasphemy law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in January by one of his bodyguards.

“The message of Shahbaz Bhatti is to purge Pakistan of killers and hatred,” Reverend Father Emmanuel Pervez told thousands of men and women gathered in Bhatti’s village in central Pakistan for mass prayers. “We will not accept oppression … Bhatti’s message is that we should not let Pakistan be defamed.” bhatti 5

(Christians shout slogans as they carry the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti for burial at his native village Khushpur, March 4, 2011/Mian Khursheed)

Pakistan media warn of growing chaos after Christian minister slain

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(Christians protest in Hyderabad against the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, March 3, 2011/Akram Shahid )

Pakistan is being swept towards violent chaos by a growing wave of Islamist extremism, the country’s newspapers said a day after Taliban militants killed the country’s only Christian government minister. The assassination of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in broad daylight in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday threatens to further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally where secular-minded politicians are imperiled by a rising strain of violent religious conservatism in the society.

“Mr. Bhatti’s brutal assassination has once again highlighted the fact that we are fast turning into a violent society,” the liberal Daily Times said in its editorial. “This is not the time to be frightened into silence. It is time to implement the law and not surrender in front of extremists.”

Factbox – Pakistan’s blasphemy law strikes fear in minorities

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(File Photo: Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, shows a cross burned during an attack on a church in central Punjab province during a news conference in Islamabad November 14, 2005/Faisal Mahmood)

Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was killed in a gun attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, officials said. The anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since November when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death, in a case that has exposed deep rifts in the troubled Muslim nation of more than 170 million people.

While liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be dangerously discriminatory against the country’s tiny minority groups, Asia Bibi’s case has become a lightning rod for the country’s religious right. In January, the governor of the most populous state of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and sought presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian farmhand, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards angry about the governor’s stand.

Taliban say killed Christian Pakistani cabinet minister for blasphemy

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(The body of assassinated minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti is carried from a hospital after he was killed in Islamabad on March 2, 2011S/Faisal Mahmood)

Taliban militants on Wednesday shot dead Pakistan’s only Christian government minister for challenging a law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam, the latest sign of instability in a country where many fear radical Islam is becoming more mainstream. Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti is the second senior official this year to be assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard in January.

These killings, along with frequent militant attacks and chronic economic problems have raised fears for the future of U.S.-ally and nuclear-armed Pakistan, where an unpopular coalition government is struggling to cope.

Christian Pakistani minister shot dead in Islamabad ambush

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(The bullet-riddled car of slain Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad March 2, 2011/Faisal Mahmood )

Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was killed in a gun attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, officials said. Police said the shooting took place near an Islamabad market. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet.

“The initial reports are that there were three men who attacked him. He was probably shot using a Kalashnikov, but we are trying to ascertain what exactly happened,” said Islamabad police chief Wajid Durrani. A hospital spokesman said Bhatti had several bullet wounds.

Tunis march against Islamists, for harmony after Polish priest murdered

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(Tunisians march against Islamists and for interfaith harmony in Tunis, February 19, 2011. The protesters' T-shirts in Arabic read: Tunisia secular", the sign on top reads: "Tunisia for all" and the sign on bottom left in French reads: "Terrorism is not Tunisia"/Zoubeir Souissi)

About 15,000 demonstrators have protested in Tunis against the country’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance a day after the Interior Ministry announced a Polish Catholic priest had been murdered by an extremist group.

“We need to live together and be tolerant of each other’s views,” said Ridha Ghozzi, 34, who was among the protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans on Saturday including “Terrorism is not Tunisian” and “Religion is Personal”.

Musharraf says Pakistan’s blasphemy law cannot be changed

musharrafFormer President Pervez Musharraf has said that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws could not be changed, but that the man who killed Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer over his opposition to them must be punished.

Musharraf, who is planning to return to Pakistan to fight elections due by 2013, said blasphemy was an extremely sensitive issue for the people of Pakistan. “Therefore doing away with the blasphemy law is not at all possible and must not be done,” he told Reuters in an interview at his London home on Sunday. (Photo: Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in New Delhi, March 6, 2009/Stringer)

Taseer was killed by his security guard this month after backing amendments to the blasphemy laws, which are often misused to settle personal scores. The man who confessed to killing him, Mumtaz Qadri, has been treated as a hero by some in Pakistan and religious parties have led demonstrations against any changes to the blasphemy laws.

Bishop’s murder in Turkey shocking and worrying

padoveseJournalists are supposed to be a pretty thick-skinned bunch, but it’s hard not to be shocked and saddened when you find out that one of your contacts has been murdered. That was the case for me when I heard that Bishop Luigi Padovese had been stabbed to death at his home in southern Turkey on Thursday. Although I never met him in person, we spoke several times over the phone about his efforts to reopen the church in Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul. Click here for that story. (Photo: Bishop Luigi Padovese at a religious service in Iskenderun, southern Turkey, in this undated photo/Anil Bagrik/Anatolia)

Padovese was always courteous, helpful and positive about his difficult mission there. According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) charity group, he finally won approval for regular religious services to be held in the Tarsus church recently. “He sounded so happy,” said ACN’s Projects Head for Asia-Africa Marie-Ange Siebrecht, who got a call from him less than two weeks ago. “Ever since the Year of St. Paul he had wanted to enable services to be held regularly at this important place of pilgrimage for the Church.”

Given the difficulties that religious minorities still face in Turkey, it was probably natural that some kind of nationalist or Islamist extremist was behind the murder.  Both the Vatican and the local government quickly rejected that, saying the main suspect, Padovese’s driver, had been depressed and confused. “Political motivations for the attack, or other motivations linked to socio-political tensions, are to be excluded,” chief Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said on Vatican Radio.

Cannes film follows French monks killed in Algeria

beauvois Xavier Beauvois at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2010/Vincent Kessler

The unsolved murder of seven French monks in Algeria during the brutal civil conflict of the 1990s is recounted in “Of Gods and Men,” a sombre and reflective entry at the Cannes film festival.

The seven members of a Trappist order, who lived in a monastery in Tibehirine south of Algiers, disappeared in 1996 during a savage wave of killings by both Islamist militants and government forces.  Only their severed heads were ever recovered and the exact circumstances in which they died are unclear.

Director Xavier Beauvois takes no side in the controversy over who to blame, focussing instead on the unhurried rhythms of life in the monastery and ending the film as they disappear with their captors up a snowy mountain path.

POLL: the right verdict in slain Kansas abortion doctor case?

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Scott Roeder in undated booking photograph released to Reuters on 12 June 2009/Wichita Police

A man accused of gunning down one of America’s few late-term abortion providers was found guilty of first-degree murder on Friday after he said he had to act to stop the doctor from performing more abortions. Give us your opinion in the online poll below.

The judge initially allowed Roeder’s defense team to argue for a voluntary manslaughter conviction by proving he had “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”