The Catholic Church in Pakistan has its first official candidate to sainthood and martyrdom, a 20-year-old Akash Bashir, who blocked a suicide bomber from entering a crowded church in 2015.
On March 15, Lahore Archdiocese officially opened the cause of beatification of Akash, a Pakistani lay Catholic. It was the seventh anniversary of his martyrdom.
Lahore Archbishop Sebastian Shaw accepted the nomination for the beatification of Akash in a canonical ceremony that marks the formal opening of the archdiocesan process. A tribunal of three Pakistani priests took an oath as the episcopal delegate, promoter of justice, and notary.
Two churches were attacked in the Youhanabad area of Lahore on that fateful day in 2015. A blast inside the Protestant Christ Church killed at least 17 people and injured hundreds as the faithful were gathered inside for Sunday worship during Lent. The second terror attack was at St. John’s Catholic Church.
Akash, an alumnus of Don Bosco Technical Institute, served as a volunteer security guard, prevented a suicide bomber from entering St. John’s Church.
“I will die but I will not let you go in,” were his words as he confronted the terrorist strapped with explosives, says a report in Vatican News. The attacker detonated the bomb outside, instantly killing himself, Akash and two others.
Because of Akash, the church—with more than 1,000 Catholics inside—was saved from a direct blast.
Terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA) later claimed the attacks, Vatican News reported.
The cause of sainthood is an intricate process that takes several years. Documenting the life and virtues of a holy person or martyr cannot begin until five years after death.
After the five-year wait, the bishop of the diocese in which the individual lived petitions the Holy See to allow the initialization of the sainthood process. If there is no objection by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the permission, or nihil obstat ("nothing stands in the way"), is communicated to the initiating bishop.
Salesian news agency ANS reported that the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints on November 9, 2021, authorized Lahore Archdiocese to open the cause of the martyrdom of Akash.
In the diocesan phase of the process, the candidate has conferred the title ‘Servant of God’, which is the case of Akash.
This stage includes the gathering of testimony on the life and virtues of the Servant of God. Also, the public and private writings must be collected and examined.
In the next five months, the diocesan tribunal will gather personal interviews of 34 witnesses present on the day of the martyrdom of Akash. "These will include family members, friends and those in his close group,” says Salesian Father Gabriel Cruz, vice-postulator of the cause of Akash.
“He offered his life as a sacrifice to save the lives of the Christian community at St. John's Catholic Church,” the vicar general Francis Gulzar of Lahore archdiocese responded “He is the first Pakistani Christian who has been raised to the rank of the Holy People of God.”
Archbishop Christophe Zakhia El-Kassis, the apostolic nuncio to Pakistan, commenting on Servant of God Akash said, “It is something very touching that someone at the beginning of his life, flourishing, discovers that something is greater than the earthly life. He understood this without theology, philosophy and many things through his simple life.”
“The diocesan process is very important to discover what was hidden in the heart of this young man and to discover the virtues of duty. This also is a sign for all the youth and all of us that we also have other people like Akash,” the apostolic nuncio told a Catholic news service.
Akash’s father, Bashir Emmanuel, told UCA News: “This is a very big honor for us. Akash symbolizes the strength of the Christian faith in our country. I pray for the clearance of all steps to sainthood.”
A mother recalls
Akash’s mother, Naz Bano, according to a report of Aid to the Church in Need, her son first joined the volunteer security guards at their church in November 2014.
“All denominations were recruiting youth following the 2013 suicide bomb attack at All Saints Church in Peshawar City,” she said. “Akash used to discuss it with his friends and kept insisting for three months that he wanted to guard the church. He was ready to sacrifice his life if God gave him a chance to protect others.”
She remembered hearing the explosions and rushing out of her house.
“The streets were filled with people,” she recalled. “Hearing the second blast, I rushed with my youngest son towards the Catholic church.”
Eventually, she found her son.
“I was searching for Akash among the boys standing near the church gate,” she said. “But he was lying down in the dirt. His right arm was almost ripped off. I could not believe my eyes.”
Another one of her sons, Arsalan, now guards the church “to take the place of his brother.”
“We did not stop him,” she said. “We cannot prevent our sons from serving the Church. It is their choice.”She described her son, Akash, as a “part of my heart.”
“But our happiness is greater than our grief,” she told ACN. “He was a simple boy who died in the path of the Lord and saved the priest and worshippers. People love him. Akash is already our saint.”
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