Bishop Sebastian Bakare of the Anglican Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe, has issued a statement condemning the "brutality" of the local police who have repeatedly persecuted and assaulted Anglicans in an attempt to stop them from attending Sunday church services.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has said that the "continued brutal attacks on Anglicans seeking to worship in peace leaves little doubt that far stronger international action is needed to contain that nation's rapidly escalating political crisis."
Bakare, who replaced the controversial former bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga, in December 2007, appealed to law enforcement agents and the police "to let sanity prevail and refrain from harassing and brutalizing Anglican Christians" in the Harare diocese.
Kunonga, an avid follower of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, was officially excommunicated on May 12. Mugabe has been censured by the international community for Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis, failing economy, and for manipulating the country's recent electoral process.
Jefferts Schori said the world community, particularly Zimbabwe's neighbors, must "increase pressure on the Mugabe regime to cease the current violence and conduct elections untainted by intimidation and tampering."
Despite a May 12 Supreme Court Order that dismissed an application from Kunonga to take control of Harare's Anglican churches, "our struggle to worship without harassment continues," said Bakare in a May 22 statement.
He reported that several parishioners of St. Monica's Church in Chitungwiza were brutally assaulted and hospitalized and that on Sunday, May 18, all churches in Harare were locked up and services held in the open air or in private property.
Bakare is supported by the majority of Zimbabwe's Anglicans and has been praised by the Archbishop of Canterbury as "a deeply respected and courageous elder statesman of the Zimbabwean Church." Bakare is expected to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference of bishops when it meets this summer in Canterbury, England.
"We stand, not only in solidarity, but in awe of our courageous brother and sister Anglicans in Zimbabwe and in the Harare diocese," said Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church's ecumenical and interfaith officer. "I can only hope they are aware of our prayers and our constant vigilance concerning their situation."
The Diocese of Harare consists of 70 parishes and districts "and for the last three weeks the police have been deployed to prevent members of our church from entering their church premises for worship," said Bakare. "The police officers do not only prevent but beat, harass and arrest us having declared our church premises no-go areas."
The Supreme Court Order "was totally disregarded by the police as previous court orders have been. Needless to say, where there is law and order such defiance would result in the arrest of those in contempt of court," he continued. "However, today in Zimbabwe the rule of law has been greatly compromised. That leaves us with no recourse to ensure that our members can freely and peacefully exercise their constitutional rights of worship without harassment. We are, however, not deterred by this lawlessness and we will continue to seek justice through the courts."
Jefferts Schori said that the right to worship freely "is among the most fundamental and immutable of human rights, and the Mugabe government's open attack on that right is the latest signal that the time for change has come.
"Millions around the world hold the people of Zimbabwe in their prayers, and it is my particular prayer that the world's leaders will be given wisdom and courage to discern their own responsibility to act," she said, calling on the United Nations to increase its leadership, "both through an arms embargo and appointment of a special high-level envoy, as suggested by members of the U.S. Congress.
"International solidarity with the suffering people of Zimbabwe is vital," she said.
Bakare expressed his appreciation for the hospitality extended by ecumenical partners who have offered their church premises to Harare's Anglicans for worship.
"We will never cease to worship," he said. "We also believe, whether the police like it or not, God will intervene, maybe not today and not tomorrow but in His own time. We will rejoice when this happens."
The full text of Bakare's statement follows.
THE ANGLICAN CHURCH CONTINUES TO BE PERSECUTED
"Blessed are they that are being persecuted for righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5.10)."
We, the Anglican Church of the Diocese of Harare (CPCA) are shocked and dismayed by the continuous Police interference with Sunday services and the increased brutality causing casualties.
Many of our Parishioners were assaulted and beaten, several of our parishioners of St Monica's Church in Chitungwiza were brutally assaulted and had to be admitted to hospital.
In addition on Sunday 18 May all churches were locked up and church services were held outside church premises in the open or in private property.
The Diocese of Harare consists of 70 parishes and Districts and for the last three weeks the police have been deployed to prevent members of our church from entering their church premises for worship.
The Police officers do not only prevent but beat, harass and arrest us having declared our church premises no-go areas.
Our struggle to worship without harassment continues. The Supreme Court Order (SC 83/80) issued by the Hon Chief Justice on 12 May 2008 was totally disregarded by the Police as previous court orders have been. Needless to say, where there is law and order such defiance would result in the arrest of those in contempt of Court.
However, today in Zimbabwe the rule of law has been greatly compromised. That leaves us with no recourse to ensure that our members can freely and peacefully exercise their constitutional rights of worship without harassment. We are however not deterred by this lawlessness and we will continue to seek justice through the courts.
We once again appeal to the Law enforcement agents, and especially the Police to let sanity prevail and refrain from harassing and brutalizing Anglican Christians in Harare Diocese. Even if this appeal falls on deaf ears, let it be said for the record.
As things are today we appreciate the hospitalities that have been extended to us by our Ecumenical partners who have agreed to offer their church premises to us for worship. We will never cease to worship. We also believe, whether the Police like it or not, God will intervene, maybe not today and not tomorrow but in His own time. We will rejoice when this happens.
In the book of Revelations Chapter 13 we are reminded of the image of the beast whose agenda is to destroy the followers of Christ. (Rev.13:5-10) . Rest assured that the principalities and powers of this world come and go, but the God who is Alpha and Omega remains to achieve His purpose to save humanity, in spite of the challenges put before us by the beast.
As Christians we take solace in reading the Bible and we are guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are reminded of Jesus' promise to his disciples, " I will ask the Father, and he will give you another counselor to be with you forever â the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him for he is with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you". (John 14:16-18).
Our lives as Christians will always have security in Christ and not in the powers of this world.
Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Harare (CPCA)