ROME -- "I was forced to flee the country with my family after a violent attack on my residence by extremists." Dr. Paul Bhatti is a surgeon who had to flee his homeland of Pakistan. Speaking to an international conference on religious liberty here this month, he said: "One morning, I awoke to find extremists trying to cut the steel security bars on the front windows of my residence. This was unsettling, to say the least."
He understates this story because, in retrospect, it was far from the worst his family would suffer.
Dr. Bhatti decided for the sake of his family and career to move to Italy, disappointing his brother, Shahbaz, by doing so. "He was trying to convince me to return to Pakistan because of the dire and pressing needs of the community, while I was arguing with him that he should move to Europe because his very life was in danger."
Shahbaz Bhatti would stay, telling his brother that "he had surrendered his life into Jesus' hands and would follow Jesus until his last breath."
While serving as minority affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatti was murdered in March 2011. "His determination to stop all kinds of injustices and to protect the oppressed and marginalized communities cost him his life," his brother says.
In Pakistan for the funeral, Paul Bhatti found an ecumenical coalition rallying around his late brother's fight for peace and protection of minority rights.
"I was astounded by the lasting power of his sacrificial love, now living in the hearts of the people," Paul Bhatti says. "I know that in reality, it was the love of God."
Paul Bhatti took over his brother's ministerial role, despite his anger over the government's failure to protect him. He did it with his brother's example constantly in mind.
"I kept seeing his face, filled with love, forgiveness and acceptance, in front of me. It was transformative. There was a palpable sense of the love of God strengthening him through the difficult phases of his struggles, especially the battle with an ideology wanting to impose hatred, division and discrimination in ... Pakistan. That same love of God began to strengthen me," Paul Bhatti says.
He ultimately "began to see (Shahbaz's) murderers through eyes of forgiveness" and so Paul Bhatti's "resentment" against the Pakistani government ebbed too, "realizing that though it appears contradictory, forgiveness and love were possibly the ultimate weapons of revenge."
There are a lot of reasons in the world today for righteous anger, and we see rage and despair in the news headlines, campaign rallies and live footage from the latest hot spot all too regularly.
We can choose to add to it, or take the road less traveled, as the American poet Robert Frost put it. Paul Bhatti points to the words of Jesus Christ from the Sermon on the Mount: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."
"I know what is the meaning of cross, and I am ready to die for a cause," Shahbaz Bhatti once said when asked about the threats on his life. His cause was "my community and suffering people" -- the persecuted who so many of us have the luxury of forgetting. It's a cause that makes for a rough and dangerous road indeed -- a path of love and forgiveness in the face of sometimes-deadly adversaries, but it's the only way to get where we need to be.
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