AY SIMON CALDWELL
THE SPIRI I AL leader oi the Catholics of England and Wales has asked for prayers for the people of Zimbabwe in a gesture of solidarity with the victims of political violence and oppression there.
Cardinal Connac MurphyO'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, broke a policy of silence of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to urge the Catholics of his archdiocese to "find time" to pray for "peace and justice" for the people of the African nation.
Just days later, Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, the most outspoken critic of the regime of President Robert Mugabe in the Zimbabwe Church, was detained by members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (C10), the country's secret police, while Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, was arrested for leading five days of pmtests.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "As we witness the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe and the threat of further violence and intimidation this week it is clear that the people of that great nation, perhaps more than ever, need our prayers and support."
He quoted from the Lenten pastoral letter of the Zimbabwean bishops, which in April had explicitly condemned the "frightening" corruption, lawlessness, food shortages and the abuses of power committed by the regime.
The Cardinal said: "We should keep in mind the words of the Catholic bishops of Zimbabwe and their call to 're-establish an environment of peace and justice which encourages full participation of all citizens in the affairs of their nation'.
"We share their hope for a Zimbabwe where truth, justice, love and freedom are enhanced, a Zimbabwe blessed by peace and where dialogue can form the basis for a genuine and peaceful transition to a new era of recovery and prosperity for that nation.
"As the protests continue we pray that they remain peaceful and call on the Zimbabwean government to show dignity, restraint and respect for the people and for democracy."
The Cardinal's call for prayers — the first major statement issued on the situation in Zimbabwe by an English Catholic bishop — came less than a month after Cafod, the Church's overseas development agency which has feeding programmes in Zimbabwe, insisted on a media blackout during the first visit to London by Archbishop Ncube.
Officials, acting with the authority of the bishops, had earlier successfully persuaded Archbishop Ncube to cancel his visit to London.
But human rights activists,
having already arranged meetings with members of both Houses of Parliament, later managed to change the archbishop's mind. Since his return to Zimbabwe, members of the CIO have also tried to gag Archbishop Ncube, detaining him for 45 minutes before he was due to celebrate Mass in St Mary's Cathedral, Bulawayo, last Friday.
But during the Mass, Archbishop Ncube directly addressed the human rights violations perpetrated by Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF Party.
"I shall not be quiet when my people art suffering — I shall speak," Archbishop Ncube told a 1,500-strong congregation while military helicopters hovered overhead.
He said: "They [the CIO] warned that no political party regalia should be worn during the prayers. They also said inflammatory statements were not to be allowed during the church service.
"We told them that this is purely a Church event with no party politics to be addressed, but we cannot avoid addressing political issues affecting the people of Zimbabwe — politics is about food, shelter, school fees for your children, job and everything to do with our normal day to day activities."
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