POPE Francis said Monday he was aware that many Zimbabweans “have reached their human limit, and do not know where to turn” but urged Catholic Bishops in the country to help promote peace and unity.
Zimbabwe’s crisis is both “spiritual and moral” said the Pontiff as he praised Catholic Bishops for giving “dramatic voice to all the struggling people of (the) country, especially to the downtrodden and the refugees” as the economic and political crisis peaked in 2007.
The Pope was addressing Bishops from Zimbabwe who are in Rome for their ad limina, which is a pilgrimage the prelates are required to make every five years to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul and to present to the Pope a report on the status of their diocese.
“The Church in your country has stood fast with her people both before and after independence, now also in the years of overwhelming suffering as millions have left the country in frustration and desperation, as many lives have been lost, so many tears shed,” he said.
He made particular reference to the hard hitting 2007 Pastoral Letter in which local Bishops lamented the suffering in the country which they blamed on, among other things “bad governance and corruption”.
“A tiny minority of the people have become very rich overnight, while the majority are languishing in poverty, creating a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Our Country is in deep crisis,” the Bishops wrote at the time.
The letter was penned at the height Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis which critics blamed on widespread corruption and incompetent leadership among other problems.
President Robert Mugabe, a devout Catholic who never misses the major events at the Vatican, accepts no responsibility, insisting the country’s problems are due to sanctions imposed by the West.
The 2007 pastoral letter, said the Pope, gave dramatic voice to the suffering of Zimbabweans.
He said: “I think particularly of your 2007 Pastoral Letter God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed: “'the suffering people of Zimbabwe are groaning in agony: ‘Watchman, how much longer the night?’”
“There you showed how the crisis is both spiritual and moral, stretching from colonial times through the present moment, and how the 'structures of sin' embedded in the social order are ultimately rooted in personal sin, requiring of all a profound personal conversion and a renewed moral sense enlightened by the Gospel.”
New elections held last year gave Mugabe, who turned 90 this year, another five year term in office after a landslide victory against the opposition who however dismissed the vote as monumental sham.
While campaigning for the vote, Mugabe and his Zanu PF party promised to create two million new jobs, but nearly a year after the elections, precious few of those jobs have materialised with companies actually closing down across the country.
The government is struggling to pay its bloated civil service and the Reserve Bank last week warned that the economy was headed towards the mayhem of 2008 unless drastic measures were taken to reverse the slide.
Pope Francis said he was aware that “many people have reached their human limit” but urged the bishops to help promote unity and peace.
“While Zimbabweans’ faithfulness is already a balm on some of these national wounds, I know that many people have reached their human limit, and do not know where to turn.
"In the midst of all this, I ask you to encourage the faithful never to lose sight of the ways in which God is hearing their supplications and answering their prayers, for, as you have written, he cannot fail to hear the cry of the poor.
“Christians find themselves on all sides of the conflict in Zimbabwe, and so I urge you to guide everyone with great tenderness towards unity and healing: this is a people both black and white, some richer but most exceedingly poorer, of numerous tribes; the followers of Christ belong to all political parties, some in positions of authority, many not.”