Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, recently called for prayer and solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe on a pastoral visit to the African country.
The cardinal traveled with the chair of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales international affairs department, Bishop Crispian Hollis. He met with bishops, including Archbishop of Harare Robert Ndlovu and others from the Zimbabwean bishops’ conference.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor visited a township in the south of Harare where poverty and illness, including cholera outbreaks, are endemic. Economic collapse and extreme food shortages have created a desperate situation, with many people gathering near parishes for handouts. The Jesuits recently distributed five tons of corn, but the supply lasted for only three days.
The cardinal visited several projects run by the local Church that were partially funded by Cafod, Caritas Internationalis, and the Pontifical Mission Society, these sites primarily focused on caring for HIV/AIDS victims. Sister Margaret McAllen, director of an HIV/AIDS project in Mashambanzou, told the cardinal that they had cared for over 3,500 families in the community, bringing the most sick into residential care until they recover enough to return to the community.
Sister McAllen said that dealing with death and the dying required spiritual support, telling the cardinal, “We get our spiritual energy from people like you coming here. This is vital to our work. We are all channels of God’s grace and knowing that you are with us is important as it gives us strength in our mission. We need this support.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that he was “profoundly moved… by the suffering and anguish of those living in terrible poverty and living with HIV/AIDS but also by the compassion and strength of those in the Church working with the most vulnerable.”
“It is when caring for the poor, sick and most vulnerable to bring them hope that the Church is at its finest,” he said.
The cardinal said that there was a “crisis of governance” in Zimbabwe, brought on by “a crisis of spiritual and moral leadership and a collapse of civic society.” He said it could take years to restore the country to stability, and that material assistance was essential. However, the Church can offer “our sense of prayer and solidarity through which hope grows.”
Archbishop Ndlovu thanked the cardinal and Bishop Hollis at a crowded public Mass at Harare Cathedral. The cardinal delivered a homily focusing on hope for a better future for the people of Zimbabwe.