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Inside the Vatican interviews Archbishop Pius Ncube of Zimbabwe

ITV: Were you appointed archbishop of Bulawayo by John Paul II?

ARCHBISHOP: Yes. I was ordained a priest at the age of 27 in 1973. It took quite a long training after secondary school to be a priest – 7 years, 3 years of philosophy and 4 years of theology. After that I worked for about 25 years as a priest. All this occurred during a very difficult time.

The guerilla war to liberate Zimbabwe dragged on and on, some awful things happened during that struggle. I witnessed these things. After independence it was also a very painful time especially since the Fifth Brigade of Robert Mugabe was killing innocent civilians, this amounted to more than 10,000. Some of these people were my relatives.

We priests were constantly being told what was going on. It was a horrible situation. But as a priest I was not suppose speak up publicly. But in the 10th year of my ordination, Archbishop Heinrich Karlen, a missionary and my predecessor spoke up. He encouraged the other bishops to stand with him. At a certain stage, the government stopped their killing. Estimates are that between 10,000 and 20,000 innocent civilians had been killed. Some of these people were over 70 and 80 years old, which shows how merciless the dictator Mugabe is.

ITV: Does Mugabe single out Catholic clergy for harassment or intimidation?

ARCHBISHOP: Yes. This was particularly clear in the government’s reaction following the pastoral letter we Zimbabwean bishops issued condemning the violence. This letter, released on April 5, is called "God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed."

But the intimidation of clergy has been on going for a long time where clergy. 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."

ITV: The current climate in Zimbabwe, is, as you say, very tense. For these reasons, was it opportune to issue the recent pastoral letter?

ARCHBISHOP: We had long weighed the matter. A month earlier there was already a lot of tension. The bishops’ meeting, on 1 and 2 March, took time to reflect and pray about the situation. We considered a letter that had been drafted by one of the bishops around Easter time that came about as a result of earlier discussions.

It was imperative that such a letter be issued. 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 7+ years had been autocratic and using his army to be brutal on the people.

In Venezuala:

As it turned out, all this was merely round one. Round two opened when Chavez decided to shut down the popular Venezuelan television outlet RCTV, a move widely condemned around the world. Perhaps no one spoke more strongly than Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Mérida, Venezuela, who compared Chavez to Castro, Mussolini, and – inevitably – Hitler.

“The sectarianism of this government closes more space every day to those who are not totally aligned with it,” Porras said from Aparecida, Brazil, where he’s taking part in the CELAM meeting.

“This revolutionary system in Venezuela is a mixture of Marxism, populism, and many other things, akin to governments like Fidel Castro, and to positions adopted by Hitler and Mussolini in Europe,” Porras said. “Today, crime is defined as what in any other society would be considered a right – to disagree, to think, to express oneself differently from the government.”

Porras also criticized negative statements from the Chavez government about the Catholic Church.

“They speak of supposed scandals, and they place the bishops among those who are conspiring against the government, which is absolutely false,” he said.

Needless to say, all of this would seem to augur further church/state tensions in Venezuela – despite the fact that, according to local observers, Chavez’s anti-globalization and anti-American rhetoric still plays well in more progressive circles of Catholic opinion.

Fr. Jesús Silva, a Uruguayan priest, has lived in the Caracas slum of El Valle for 26 years, and claims there is “no doubt” that Chavez is a committed Catholic. The country’s “eternally excluded and exploited social classes,” Silva said, today feel “they have a man in whom they confide.”

Gazo, the Jesuit who serves as a Chavez advisor, agrees.

“It makes me sad that the official Church has been deceived by the country’s minority,” he said recently, “a part that identified with the right and with the dominant economic groups.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo:

Following a massacre last weekend, Archbishop Francois-Xavier Maroy of Bukavu made a dramatic appeal to the French ambassador in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

In his letter the Archbishop calls upon the head of state of the Democratic Republic of Congo to "fulfil his responsibilities" and "send elite troops into the affected region". He also demands that the government should "treat the security problem in the east of the country as a priority and stop trying to distract public opinion with proposed plans for negotiations, dialogue and a round table which leads to nothing. We already have experience of this", he adds.

Archbishop Maroy maintains that in the media he sees a "campaign of feigned ethnic hatred". In his letter he continues, "The massacre in Kaniola was carried out almost in the presence of the major of the regular army (…). The cries of the people clearly did not disturb his sleep, even though the massacre took place not far from the place where he is stationed…. As in 1996, our army … was incapable of protecting the people." He continues, "How are we to interpret the silence of the institutions of the Republic, of the head of state, the Parliament, the central government and the military, in the face of these repeated massacres in Kaniola? In other countries the taking of a hostage, even if it is only a matter of a single person, immediately prompts the state apparatus to react. So far as the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is concerned, all they can offer us, in the face of the threat of a new war and while massacres are being perpetrated against the civilian population, is an ‘inter-communicative" roundtable discussion, instead of tackling the real problems, which involve the restoration of military order and security. Is this complicity or ignorance?"

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