Christians across Pakistan on Tuesday rejoiced as the Vatican named a 20-year-old bombing victim ‘Servant of God’, taking the first formal step toward sainthood for a Pakistani Christian.
Father Francis Gulzar, vicar general of the Lahore Catholic Archdiocese, announced the news on his Facebook page.
“A great day for the Catholic Church in Pakistan. On the Feast Day of St. John Bosco, His Grace Sebastian Francis Shaw Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Lahore, Pakistan has announced, that the Holy Father Pope Francis has accepted Akash Bashir as ´Servant Of God,” he stated.
“He offered his life as a sacrifice to save the lives of the Christian community at St. John’s Catholic Church, Youhanabad, Lahore on 15th March 2015. He is the first Pakistani Christian who has been raised to the rank of the Holy People of God. Congratulations to all Christians in Pakistan.”
In 2015, Lahore was hit by two suicide bombings. The targets were two churches in the city’s Christian quarter Youhanabad. Around 20 people were killed and another 80 injured in this atrocity. One of the churches targeted was St. John’s Catholic Church, which was packed with 2,500 people for Mass at the time of the bombing.
Akash stopped a suicide bomber from entering the church. The attacker — from a Taliban splinter group — detonated the bomb, killing himself and Bashir outside the church. He was one of at least 15 people who died in the attack that also left more than 70 wounded.
In 2016, the Lahore Archdiocese began the movement to seek sainthood for Bashir on the first anniversary of the terrorist attack.
On Nov 9, 2021, the Holy See granted authorization for the opening of the Cause of Martyrdom of Akash Bashir (1994-2015), a lay person, a past pupil of Don Bosco.
The title “Servant of God” is given by the Church to a sainthood candidate when his or her cause is officially opened.
The first step in the process after that is the declaration of a person’s heroic virtues, after which the church bestows the title “Venerable.” The second step is beatification, after which he or she is called “Blessed.” The third step is canonization.
In general, for beatification one miracle needs to be accepted by the Church as having occurred through the intercession of the prospective saint and a second such verified miracle is needed for canonization.
Christians celebrated the news on social media.
“May the Servant of God Akash Bashir pray for all the Christians in Pakistan to be brave in confessing their faith when threatened and terrorized. God bless the Church in Pakistan,” stated Dominican Sister Frances Farrugia on the Facebook post.
“Amazing. A huge cres [sic] goes to you as well,” stated Sajid Christopher, president of the Human Friends Organisation based in Youhanabad.
“Congratulations to the entire community, especially St John church parish for recognizing his sacrifice by Pontiff. Hats off for his parents,” stated Raja Kamran, an Abu Dhabi-based embryologist.
However, Akash’s father Bashir Emmanuel wasn’t aware of the development.
“One of my sons shared that there is a special Mass at the church,” he told foreign media. “This is a very big honor for us. Akash symbolizes the strength of Christian faith in our country. I pray for the clearance of all steps to sainthood.”
In 2011, Catholic priests called for the canonization of Shahbaz Bhatti, a former federal minister who was gunned down for criticizing the blasphemy laws. However, the demand faded away amid lack of community support.