London: Mass for peace in Zimbabwe

 History was made on Saturday when both Shona and Ndbele people sang and prayed together at a special Mass for Zimbabwe, held at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in London's Farm Street. Among the congregation were several refugees from Zimbabwe, including a woman whose husband had been killed when the family was forced to leave their farm, and several women who had been raped during the pre-election riots. Mass was celebrated by Fr Maxwell Jaya, Zimbabwe's first black Franciscan priest, with Fr Michael O'Halloran SJ, parish priest at Farm Street, Fr Athanasius Dzadagu, a diocesan priest from Harare, Fr Dermot McCoy from South Africa, Fr Constantine Masarira, a Carmelite from Mutare diocese, Fr Philip Morufu, and Fr Clive Lee, assistant priest at St Thomas of Canterbury's in Fulham. In his homily Fr Michael spoke of his love for Zimbabwe, where he worked as a teacher from 1977 to 1983. During that time he said he had experienced the sorrow of war and then the sense of optimism and confidence in the first years of the new regime. He said it was fitting that the Mass was taking place near the feast of Christ the King, when we are reminded that Jesus is Lord of all. Fr Michael then spoke of Blessed Miguel Pro, the Mexican priest who was shot in 1927 by government soldiers. He said: "He had only been a priest for two years. There was no pretence of a trial. He was betrayed by a regime that showed complete contempt for the law. His last words were "Viva Christo Rey" in praise of Christ the King." Fr Michael said that when a government acted above the law, when its policies were catastrophic for the country, we must not condemn: "We must pray for the victim and for the oppressor." At the end of the Mass, Fr Max described how he had been badly beaten up in South Africa, just because he was black, during the apartheid era. "It was very hard," he said. This year, he was attacked again - this time by his own people in Zimbabwe. "I got harassed because they were attacking anyone who was a teacher or a priest," he said. "It was very hard but turning to God in prayer gives me courage." Thanking everyone for coming he said: "When you give in to oppression, you become a victim and give away your strength. When you pray, and when you pray with others you become empowered again. Our country needs our prayers very much." Fr Athanasius also thanked all those who came and announced that further Masses for Zimbabwe are being planned.

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