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Christian groups back criticism by Zimbabwe Catholic bishops


A Christian group in Zimbabwe has urged the country’s Roman Catholic bishops to continue to fight for people’s rights despite threats by President Robert Mugabe against the clerics, who recently issued a pastoral letter critical of his government.

"We praise the bishops for their stance; they should continue to fight bravely," said the Rev. Ray Motsi, national chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Pastors’ Conference, a grouping of 1500 clerics from throughout Zimbabwe.

"The question of safety in Zimbabwe has become an issue, and people get frightened when certain statements are made by senior politicians who include the state president," Motsi, a Baptist pastor in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo, told Ecumenical News International on 9 May. "But we believe the Catholic bishops should stand resolute and carry the burden on behalf of the people, whatever happens to them."

Motsi’s comments follow statements by Mugabe in early May that said the Catholic bishops had chosen "a dangerous path" after they published their pastoral letter criticising his government over the country’s mounting political and economic crises.

"Once they [the bishops] turn political we regard them as no longer being spiritual, and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities, and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves," Mugabe was quoted as saying in an interview in the London-based monthly New African magazine.

The bishops’ pastoral letter said that Zimbabwe had reached "a flashpoint", and that more and more Zimbabweans were becoming angry about their plight. "The State responds with even harsher repression through arrests, detentions, banning orders, beating and torture. In our judgement the situation is extremely volatile," the bishops said in the letter read out in Catholic parishes throughout the southern African country.

The letter followed the beating up by security forces in March of scores of opposition, church and human rights activists attending a prayer rally.

Methodist Bishop Levee Kadenge, the convenor of the Christian Alliance, a grouping of churches, opposition political groups, and human rights organisations, said the criticism by Mugabe of the Catholic bishops was predictable.

"The statements from the highest office in the land are self-explanatory," said Kadenge. "You do not even need to ask what he intends to do, especially judging from what had happened in this country over the past few months." 

(c) Ecumenical News International