An iPad, an Xbox, whatever our most desired shiny object under the Christmas tree on Sunday morning happens to be, is not as precious as the ability to celebrate Christmas freely and openly — with Santa at Macy’s or Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s, as casually or as devoutly as we wish.
Not so for Christians throughout the world this Christmas, and for those who did not live to see the day, precisely because they lived its meaning.
When I see images of a young Virgin Mary in our Christmas Nativity displays this Christmas, I can’t help but think of her “yes,” and that of a young girl in Pakistan who was killed right after we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the U.S.
Amariah Masih was 18 years old when she was murdered for refusing to give in to a Muslim man’s advances. A Catholic girl from a small village near Faisalabad in the Punjab province of Pakistan, she was on a motorbike fetching drinking water, not available within the village, for her family.
Typically, a rape victim in Pakistan will be imprisoned for unlawful sex and released on the condition that she marry the rapist, explains Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. And since a Christian cannot be married to a Muslim under sharia law, the woman would be forced to convert to Islam.
The homilist at Amariah’s funeral called her “a martyr.”
Young women in Pakistan are far from the only Christian martyrs of 2011. Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities there, was assassinated for having the high-profile courage of his convictions. He was Pakistan’s sole Christian parliamentarian when he was shot multiple times outside his mother’s house in Islamabad in March.
In an undated interview obtained by Al-Jazeera after his death, Bhatti was asked about threats on his life: “Your life is threatened. By whom? And what sorts of threats are you receiving?”
“The forces of violence, militant band organizations, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda,” Bhatti responded. “They want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan. And whoever stands against their radical philosophy, they threaten them. When I’m leading this campaign against the Sharia laws, for the abolishment of the blasphemy law, and speaking for the oppressed and marginalized persecuted Christians and other minorities, these Taliban threaten me.”
Chillingly, he said: “But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of cross, and I am following of the cross, and I am ready to die for a cause.”
He explained: “I am living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights. So these threats and these warnings cannot change my opinion and principles. I prefer to die for my principle and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise on these threats.”
It was, in fact, the Taliban and al-Qaeda who took credit for the assassination.