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Pakistan's budding saint among pope's new models of faith

Servant of God Akash Bashir is the latest young person of faith to be set on the path to sainthood
Pakistan's budding saint among pope's new models of faith

A memorial for Akash Bashir in front of St. John's Church in Youhanabad, Lahore. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: February 04, 2022 03:59 AM GMT
Updated: December 29, 2022 10:12 AM GMT

The first Catholic to be set on the path to sainthood in Islamic Pakistan is a young Catholic who daringly sacrificed his life at the prime age of 20. It shows a pattern that Pope Francis follows: provide newer models of faith from wider societies for Catholics of this age, and in their own cultures.

Young Pakistani Akash Bashir stopped a Taliban-supported suicide bomber from entering his St. John's Church in Youhanabad, Lahore, fully aware that the attacker had a bomb attached to his body. The 2015 explosion, just outside the church, killed the attacker, Bashir, and two others.

In a country beset with terrorist attacks and hate crimes against Christians, Servant of God Bashir’s life stands out as a model for Catholic youth across the world. Pope Francis has been keen on citing such life examples to tell the world that a heroic Catholic life is possible and happening even in this age of ours.

The pope is unlike most leaders who often tell young Catholics that they are the “Church of tomorrow.” This perception robs from young people their importance and role. In effect, it totally neglects them and asks them to grow up.

The 85-year-old Argentine seems to be correcting that attitude by presenting young people as the Church of today, providing them with role models from modern history.

At his address on World Youth Day in Panama in 2019, the pontiff told young people: “Dear young people, you are not the future but the now of God.” He stressed the importance of making the Church one of young people, one that is relevant and acting in support of their dreams and not something that bristles at their aspirations.

Catholic saints who lived a few decades ago are outdated role models of faith for young people who feel suffocated if their internet connection slows down

In this post-modern era of moral relativism, the Church is trying to stay relevant through a robust, adequate and well-founded moral, spiritual and intellectual formation. What is the best way to do it? The Vatican seems to have found an answer by canonizing more young people who followed a Catholic life heroically.

The Church under Pope Francis is struggling to change the system that views laypeople, more so young people, as passive recipients of clerical directions. The Church wants to break this top-down approach and has embarked on a path of synodality, collective discernment and accompaniment.

Catholic saints who lived a few decades ago are outdated role models of faith for young people who feel suffocated if their internet connection slows down. It is the Church’s priority to present new Catholic models using mobile phones, the internet and even facing down Taliban attacks.

The Church’s challenge is also to find and promote Catholics who follow its morals heroically amid the culture of this era that mocks spirituality and religion while pushing for human rights such as freedom of same-sex unions, teenage pregnancies and abortions.

The concept of the world is also changing in societies. The world is fast becoming a world of young people, of their innovations, progress and leadership. They look to the future and live in the present more than ever, breaking away from the tradition that religions and culture have to offer.

Young people everywhere have always dismissed older generations as outdated. But the dismissal of the present generation is factual, general and indisputable considering that the past three decades have brought more technological changes than the entire past century could offer. Generations are getting outdated at a pace comparable to software becoming outdated in mobile phones.

Of late, the notion that maturity comes with age has changed too. Leadership roles were earlier reserved for the experienced — often based on age. It helped the elderly to be always at the helm of affairs. Not anymore. Young people are assuming leadership roles in the private sector and government more than ever. Emmanuel Macron, now 44, became the youngest president of France in history at only 39.

With the emergence of an apocalyptic narrative in which the future appears bleak and insecure, the Church does not want to fail these young people — the massive demographic of 1.2 billion in the 15-24 age group — across the world.

With the pope beatifying the young Italian in 2020, he stands a chance of becoming the first millennial saint

The Church cannot ignore the growing influence of young people on society. It is trying to present Jesus as a companion, friend, teacher and savior to youths — with life examples of young people who accepted and lived that path.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has signed the decree of beatification for 1,399 people, and the list shows at least half of them were people who died in the 20th century. Carlo Acutis, a computer wizard who died at 15 in 2006, stands out among them. With the pope beatifying the young Italian in 2020, he stands a chance of becoming the first millennial saint.

The process of sainthood for most people he beatified began long before he assumed office. We need to consider the people whom he declared venerable, the first of the last two important steps to canonization, to see the trend he is changing. Of the 437 people he declared venerable, all except 70 lived most of their lives in the 20th century. That’s because Pope Francis wants role models for modern Catholics.

The number of people he accepted to the path of sainthood could be in the hundreds. But the keenness with which he allowed the case of Akash Bashir to undertake the sainthood process shows the thinking of a pope who cares for Catholics in countries where they are often a persecuted minority.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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