Saturday, May 05, 2007

In Zimbabwe, a "Dangerous Path"

One of the world's more troubled political hotspots has been Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe has pursued an authoritarian agenda that's driven the country into political turmoil and socioeconomic crisis.

Led by Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, the country's Catholic bishops have spoken out against Mugabe, himself a Catholic. In his latest salvo, the president has ominously warned the hierarchy of the "dangerous path they have chosen for themselves."
Mugabe's comments, in the state-run Herald newspaper, come after a pastoral letter was read out by bishops on Sunday calling for a new people-driven constitution to avert bloodshed and mass uprising.

"Once (the Bishops) turn political, we regard them as no longer 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 told the Herald.

The autocratic 83-year-old, himself a Catholic, is blamed for the political and economic crisis that has reduced one of Africa's success stories to a country in meltdown.

Zimbabwe has world-record inflation, joblessness hovering over 80 percent and chronic shortages of foreign currency, fuel and cooking oil.

In their letter, the Catholic leaders said that the crisis in Zimbabwe was "in essence, a crisis of governance and a crisis of leadership apart from being a spiritual and moral crisis."

"If I had gone to church and the priest had read that so-called pastoral letter, I would have stood up and said 'nonsense,'" Mugabe said, adding: "It is not something spiritual, it is not religious, the bishops have decided to turn political."

Mugabe said he would talk to some of the bishops but attacked one of his outspoken critics, Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo.

"He (Ncube) thinks he is close to God, that's why he says he is praying for me to die. But unfortunately, God has not listened to him for all this duration.

"I don't know how many times a day he is saying that prayer: 'Please God take that man, Robert Mugabe away from us.'"...

"[The bishops] have gone wrong, sadly, very sadly, and this is an area we warn them not to tread because it's a political area."
In his Urbi et Orbi address on Easter, Benedict XVI singled out Zimbabwe and the advocacy of the bishops in the midst of the country's "grievous crisis."

Some might find it interesting to know that the Vatican's man in Harare is a gentle, soft-spoken American -- a Philadelphian, to be precise. A 33-year veteran of the Holy See's diplomatic corps, Archbishop Edward Adams first served as nuncio to Bangladesh before being transferred to Zimbabwe in 2002.