Pope Francis encourages Zimbabwe bishops to promote unity and reconciliation in troubled country

(Photo: . REUTERS / Philimon Bulawayo)A Zimbabwean church member prays for a mother and her child outside a temporary polling station in Mbare, Harare, August 1, 2013. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai dismissed Zimbabwe's election as a farce on Thursday after his rival President Robert Mugabe's party claimed a landslide victory that would secure another five years in power for Africa's oldest head of State.

Pope Francis is encouraging Zimbabwean bishops to promote unity and reconciliation in their troubled country that is said to be in economic ruin with political divisions that leave millions of citizens in exile.

Meeting on June 2 with the Catholic bishops of Zimbabwe in Rome, the Pope praised the country's church hierarchy for showing their people that their nation's crisis "is both spiritual and moral."

Francis said, "While Zimbabweans' faithfulness is already a balm on some of these national wounds, I know that many people have reached their human limit, and do not know where to turn," Vatican Radio reported.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is aged 90 and clings onto power after 34 years of rule stifling opposition even within his own Zanu-PF party say many commentators.

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Many Africans, however, revere him for his stated indigenization policies which they see as a victory over colonialism.

Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti hit out at Mugabe for his frequents absences from the country for what his officials describe as "routine eye check-ups" in Singapore that cost Zimbabweans millions of dollars for each trip.

'ROBBER ECONOMY'

"The Zanu PF government has become a robber economy and it is not sustainable. The biggest crime that this government of the day is doing is failing to pay civil servants their monthly salaries on time," said Biti.

Zimbabwean writer Wezhira Marihwepi said in an opinion piece in the New Zimbabwe online newspaper, "Looking at all economic and social data, the scientific fact which emerges is that his Zanu PF government is edging the country towards total ruin and destruction."

Pope Francis said, "The Church in your country has stood fast with her people both before and after independence, now also in the years of overwhelming suffering as millions have left the country in frustration and desperation, as many lives have been lost, so many tears shed," the Pope said.

He paid special tribute to the pastoral letter released by the bishops of Zimbabwe in 2007, "God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed," noting that it showed how the country's difficulties have evolved "from colonial times through the present moment."

The Pope encouraged the African bishops to preserve unity among the faithful, and especially among the clergy, and to "guide everyone with great tenderness toward unity and healing."

Commenting on Pope Francis meeting Precious Shumba, a spokesperson for the Anglican Bishop Chad Gandiya, told SW Radio Africa that Zimbabwe's churches have been deeply fragmented by political allegiance.

He said this had resulted in the churches remaining "insignificant" in the country's social landscape.

Shumba said Wednesday that the church has been "corrupted" by its political allegiances.

"The Church has fallen far short of giving spiritual guidance to the national leadership, in terms of raising critical value issues. They have left the politicians to abuse the citizens, and left the citizens at the mercy of an elite who are consuming all the resources," he said

He noted, "In terms of dealing with the national conflict, the church has not come out strongly against oppressive leadership and dictatorial tendencies by those wielding State power and authority, and this means citizens are feeling vulnerable."

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