Zimbabwe: church communities fear attack

 Church leaders and their congregations in Zimbabwe are facing increasing threats of attack from government militia, several sources have reported. At the weekend the government shut down most Anglican churches. A Catholic priest, told Aid to the Church in Need that people who had voted against Robert Mugabe's party ZANU PF have been kidnapped, tortured, maimed and raped by soldiers, particularly in rural areas. "Many Catholic priests and lay people are on the wanted lists of these soldiers and militia groups", he said, "and many of them are forced to remain in hiding following death threats." Reprisals came after the Catholic Church joined with other denominations on 8 May to speak out about the country's deteriorating human rights situation, including the 'organised violence' in areas that did not vote for ZANU PF. The priest called on Christians around the world to pray for the people of Zimbabwe. He particularly asked prayers for those "who are persecuting us, because we have exercised our democratic rights" He described how many streets are full of people living rough, because their houses have been looted and burned down after they voted for Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Hospitals have run out of many medicines and there are massive food shortages. "It is to be feared", he said, "that the situation will only get still worse ahead of the run-off vote on 27th June." Food is being withheld from those who did not vote for ZANU PF, the priest told ACN, and despite their best efforts Catholic dioceses are unable obtain any food for the hungry. The Telegraph reported on Saturday that President Robert Mugabe's regime has shut down Zimbabwe's Anglican Church, turning baton-wielding riot police on congregations and rendering it impossible for clergy to conduct services. 'When Anglicans go to worship tomorrow, they will not venture inside their own churches, almost all of which have been closed by police. Instead, for the first time, they will join Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians, who will open their services to embattled Anglicans.' the Telegraph reported. The prime cause of the Anglican Church's collapse is Nolbert Kunonga, the renegade Anglican Bishop of Harare and a staunch supporter of Mr Mugabe. Kunonga was expelled from the Anglican Church and a new Bishop of Harare, Sebastian Bakare, was appointed in his place. But Kunonga, 58, refused to leave office. Instead, he occupied Harare's Anglican cathedral of St Mary's and All Saints, seized the Church's bank accounts and made dozens of his friends priests or bishops. Despite being officially excommunicated on Monday, he still conducts services for a handful of followers inside the cathedral. He has been rewarded for backing Mr Mugabe with a formerly white-owned farm. Sources: ACN/Telegraph

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