Zimbabweans are praying for an end to the "autocratic" and "brutal" regime of President Robert Mugabe that has brought untold suffering to the country, says outspoken Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo.
"There is a lot of prayer in Zimbabwe right now - praying of the rosary, night prayers to Our Lady for the country," the archbishop says in an interview to be published in the June-July issue of Inside the Vatican magazine.
He says it was "imperative" for the bishops of Zimbabwe to write their Easter Pastoral Letter which blamed the crisis in the country on bad governance. Mugabe dismissed the letter as political meddling and told the bishops to choose between religion or politics.
"The situation of the people was becoming worse and worse. Among the young people, there was a growing anger and a growing sense of uncertainty and desperation. We were in the hands of a man who for 27-plus years had been autocratic and using his army to be brutal on the people."
He says Mugabe's regime tries to intimidate the clergy for their solidarity with the people. "We were told: 'You keep to the Bible, to religious affairs, don't comment on political matters. If you want to come into politics then give up your religious garb, and be a politician and then we will deal with you properly.'" Despite such rhetoric, the authorities dragged at least one priest out of Mass as he read the bishops’ pastoral letter to the congregation.
But the church will not be intimidated. "We feel duty bound to stand with the people in a time when there is so much suffering; in times when the humanitarian situation of the people food wise, education-wise, health-wise, is getting worse and worse."