Tanzanian bishops stress peace as murdered priest laid to rest

The bishops of Tanzania called on the local people to work and pray for peace after the recent murder of Father Evarist Mushi on the island of Zanzibar.

Bishop Tarsisius Ngalalekumtwa, president of the Bishops' Conference of Tanzania, said in his funeral homily that the first victim of the killing is the peace that exists between Christians and Muslims in the country. He urged the community to resist the temptation to respond to the tragedy with more violence.

Fr. Mushi was killed Feb. 17. Reports indicate that the priest was killed on his way to Sunday Mass by two men on a motorcycle, who shot him in the head.

In addition to Bishop Ngalalekumtwa, six other bishops attended the funeral, including Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, Archbishop of Dar es Salaam, as well as the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, who is Muslim.

According to Father Francisco Palacios of Radio Maria, the local government provided security for the funeral as a show of support for the Christian community on the island.

He added that three suspects have been detained in the murder of Fr. Musi.

During the burial at the cemetery, Bishop Augustine Shao of Zanzibar said, "Our faith is being tested at this time, and for this reason we need to pray to the Holy Spirit - especially during this time of Lent - for the strength to maintain our faith, to not be overcome by anxiety or the desire to retaliate."

The presence of President Kikwete at the funeral "was a clear show of support for the Catholic Church, which is seeking peace and justice," said Fr. Palacios.

He also praised various Muslim representatives for their "gesture of solidarity" in attending the funeral.  

The Muslim-dominated country is facing a time of unrest and insecurity, he explained.

While Christians and Muslims have traditionally lived side-by-side peacefully in Tanzania, extremist Muslim groups from Somalia have recently carried out violent attacks in the country, Fr. Palacios told CNA.

"Here on the island last Christmas, and before, various churches were apparently set on fire by anonymous persons, and numerous priests were the targets of violence," he said, adding that there have also been "other acts of violence on the Tanzanian mainland that have not been noticed by the public." 

"We're talking about a group of radical extremists who are attempting to impose themselves through violence," the priest stressed, explaining that the aggressors do not represent all of the region's Muslims.

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