25 February 2022, The Tablet

A young man doing his job

A young man doing his job

On 31 January 2022, Akash Bashir was declared a Servant of God. Patrick Hudson reflects on the martyrdom of a young Pakistani Christian on the road to canonisation

‘Martyrdom’ sounds like rather an archaic process – the sort of thing that happened elaborately to the converts of the early Church, or to medieval missionaries. The odd prayer to the martyrs under Elizabeth and gawping at a priest hole in a National Trust house is about as visceral as it gets in the UK. Lucky us.

On 15 March 2015, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Catholic Church of St John in Youhanabad, Lahore. He failed to kill the hundreds inside the church because his entry was blocked by the twenty-year-old Akash Bashir, who died in the blast. On 31 January this year, the feast of St John Bosco, patron of young people, Akash Bashir became the first Pakistani to be declared a Servant of God, the beginning of the road to canonisation. There is nothing obscure or archaic about the martyrs of the Church in Pakistan.

The sad truth is that they are part of its day-to-day existence. On the day Bashir died, seventeen others were killed and seventy wounded in coordinated attacks on churches in Youhanabad. Where I might offer to hand round the collection plate the odd Sunday, young men in Pakistan join volunteer security teams so that others can hear Mass said in safety. Bashir died taking his turn at these duties: that is what being an active member of his parish meant.

We are used to symbolism from our martyrs, and eloquent exposition – the voices of Edmund Campion and Oliver Plunkett have not been quietened by the centuries – but the details of Bashir’s death have their own eloquence. Their terrible simplicity belies any romantic vision of martyrdom, but perhaps it can remind us of the real, blessed simplicity of the Sunday observance and those occasionally tiresome parochial jobs in a country where being a Catholic no longer demands physical bravery.

Saintliness is not complicated, and our prayers for Akash Bashir’s canonisation will rest on the unvarnished facts of a young man doing his job. His last words: “I will die, but I will not let you enter.” That is what happened.
Patrick Hudson is the Newman Intern at The Tablet, joining in January 2022.

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