Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - The young Catholic Akash Bashir is the first "Servant of God" in the history of the Church of Pakistan. After the official announcement by the Catholic Church of Pakistan, great joy has spread in the Christian communities. "It is a great joy for the Catholic Church in Pakistan that, on the feast of St. John Bosco (January 31), Pope Francis proclaimed Akash Bashir as 'Servant of God'. The young layman offered his life in sacrifice to save the lives of hundreds of Christians present inside the Catholic Church of St. John in the district of Youhanabad, Lahore on March 15, 2015, blocking a suicide bomber and dying with him", Archbishop Sebastian Shaw, at the head of the Archdiocese of Lahore, told the faithful. Archbishop Sebastian Shaw on several occasions has expressed appreciation for the courage and sacrifice of the young 20-year-old Catholic, Akash Bashir, who volunteered as a member of security personnel outside the Church. The Prelate added: "We praise and thank God for this brave young man, who could escape or try to save himself, but he remained steadfast in his faith and did not let the suicide bomber enter the church. He gave his life to save more than a thousand people present in the Church for Sunday mass". "I would like to express gratitude to all Christians in Pakistan: Akash Bashir is the first Pakistani Christian elevated to the rank of Servant of God by our Church", the Archbishop concluded. Akash Bashir was born on June 22, 1994 in Risalpur, in the Pakistani province of Nowshera Khyber Pakhtun Khwa, was a student at the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Lahore and one of the young people active in the parish community of the Church of Saint John.
Akash was on duty at the Church entrance gate on March 15, 2015, when he spotted a man who wanted to enter the Church with an explosive belt on his body. Akash blocked him at the entrance gate, foiling the terrorist's plan to massacre inside the church. The terrorist blew himself up and the young Akash Bashir died with him. Akash's last words were: "I will die, but I will not let you in". Bishop Samson Shukardin OFM, President of the Episcopal Commission for youth, speaking to Fides, said: "It is a great blessing, an honor and a moment of joy for the Catholic Church in Pakistan, for the family, for the parishioners and for the Don Bosco Center where Akash was a student. It was the faith of this young man that led him to martyrdom. Akash stayed true to his mission to protect the people until his last breath". The Bishop adds: "I wish to congratulate Archbishop Shaw and the priests involved in the diocesan beatification process; I am grateful to the Holy Father for blessing the Church of Pakistan with the first 'Servant of God', for his love and his prayers for the people of Pakistan". Ayyaz Gulzar, coordinator of "Jesus Youth Pakistan", a Catholic lay movement, said: "We are especially happy for the young people of Pakistan. Akash Bashir is a hero, an example, his martyrdom is a model for all to be obedient and faithful to the Gospel. The news of the announcement of Akash Bashir as 'Servant of God' has spread great joy to all young Christians in Pakistan". And he continues: "Church leaders and youth actively shared the news on social media with congratulatory messages and enthusiastically welcomed this historic announcement. We thank God for this blessing for the Church in Pakistan. Akash's life and mission are already an inspiration for our faith and will inspire many young people to serve the Church with obedience, fidelity and dedication, joy".
In the brutal attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Jamaatul Ahraar (TTP-JA) organization on churches in Youhanabad on March 15, 2015, 17 people were killed and 70 were injured. In the years since, the Archdiocese of Lahore has worked to support all the Christian families who lost their loved ones in the two suicide bombings against St. John's Church and the Evangelical Church of Christ, in the Christian neighborhood that is home to more of 100,000 faithful. After the attacks there was the unfortunate episode of the lynching of two Muslim men, identified as the alleged perpetrators, who died at the hands of the crowd protesting after the attacks on the churches. Several Christians were arrested and released after a few years. The Lahore pastoral team helped create small businesses to support their families. (See Fides, 23/12/2020 and 20/2/2021). (AG-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 3/2/2021)