Zimbabwe churches hold joint four-hour peace service

 Bishop Kevin Dowling, Chair of the South African Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, has condemned the Zimbabwean use of torture to stamp out opposition to President Robert Mugabe's government, Paddy Kearney reported in the Natal Mercury on Thursday. He writes: 'In a passionate address in St Mary's Cathedral, Bulawayo, on Saturday, Bishop Dowling said that torture is a grave offence against the image of God present in every human being: "We are here today to stand with and to honour you, the victims of torture. We are proud to know there are people like you who stand for the truth. We commit ourselves to walk with you, as you walked with us in South Africa's long struggle to overcome apartheid." 'Dowling was speaking at a service organised by Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, together with the Amani Trust, a Zimbabwean NGO which helps to heal those who have been traumatised by torture. The service marked the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and provided an opportunity for many victims to tell their stories. 'Present at the service were several SA church leaders, including Anglican Bishop of Natal, Rubin Phillip, Auxiliary Bishop of Mariannhill, Pius Dlungwane, and Chair of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council, Bishop Matthew Makhaye (Anglican), who accompanied Bishop Dowling in a show of solidarity with Ncube and the Zimbabwean people. In a moving liturgy that lasted almost four hours, many who had experienced torture came forward to tell of beatings, burning of homes, people disfigured and killed in the presence of their children. Showing their wounds to the shocked congregation and displaying documents proving the truth of what they said, several broke down and wept as they recalled what had been done to them, to close relatives and friends. Some had come out of hiding to use this rare opportunity to voice their pain. 'Clearly, Zimbabwe will need its own Truth Commission at some time in the future,' writes Kearney. 'Even the church had not been untouched in the climate of repression that characterises Zimbabwe today. Ncube has suffered vilification and a campaign of lies in the Zimbabwean media for his bold stand for the truth. Methodist and Anglican clergy told how they had been arrested and held for several days for organising public prayers for peace. Clearly not cowed by this experience, Rev Noel Scott (Anglican) said: "As church we need to stand up for our rights in Zimbabwe, whatever the consequences. We are called to travel in the way of the cross." Bishops led the victims and members of the congregation in carrying 164 large wooden crosses which were placed around the altar to link the suffering of torture victims with that of Christ. The service ended with the bishops laying hands on and praying for each of the torture victims. 'The Amani Trust is planning to organise similar services in various parts of Zimbabwe. 'Archbishop Ncube said: "What has been reported today is just the tip of the iceberg." He also expressed great concern that food relief is only being given to members of one party, and that children of the opposition are denied treatment at clinics.' Paddy Kearney is Director of the Diakona Council of Churches

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