A security guard who was killed preventing a suicide bomber from entering a Pakistani church has been declared a Servant of God by the Vatican, placing him on the first step to sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.
Akash Bashir was murdered on March 15, 2015, when Islamic terrorists targeted two Christian churches in Lahore, Pakistan, with suicide bombings.
The 20-year old volunteer security guard was protecting the entrance to St. John’s Catholic Church when he heard that a nearby Anglican church had been attacked by a terrorist earlier that morning.
According to accounts of the attack, Bashir saw a man running toward the entrance of St. John’s with a suspicious device. The man demanded that Bashir allow him inside, but the security guard was fearless in the face of certain death.
“I will die, but I will not let you go in,” Bashir said, according to the Catholic News Agency.
Bashir went on to restrain the terrorist outside the church, where a suicide bomb was detonated. Hundreds of parishioners were inside at the time.
The terrorist organization Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar was responsible for the bombings. Seventeen people were killed in the attacks on the two churches, with more than 70 injured.
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of the Archdiocese of Lahore announced that the Vatican had formally recognized Bashir as a Servant of God on Monday, according to UCA News. Bashir is the first Pakistani to be granted the distinction.
Bashir’s father, Bashir Emmanuel, is pointing to his son’s actions as evidence of the strength of the Christian faith in Pakistan.
“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,” he said.
Bashir volunteered for security duties at his church following an earlier bombing targeting a church in the city of Peshawar in 2013.
“He was ready to sacrifice his life if God gave him a chance to protect others,” said Bashir’s mother, Naz Bano.
One of the martyr’s brothers now performs security duties at the church, which still faces potential threats.
The status of a Servant of God is one step below beatification, which in turn precedes canonization in the Vatican’s official sainthood process. The canonization process can often take decades, but it’s common for individuals recognized as martyrs to be canonized quickly.
Persecution of Christians is commonplace in Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, both by the government and Islamic terrorist groups.