CHINHOYI, Zimbabwe, MARCH 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Zimbabwe in the local language means “house of stones.” Today this house is collapsing, says the bishop of Chinhoyi.
Bishop Dieter Scholz affirmed that in his country, unemployment is estimated to be approximately 80%, and if people do earn a salary, it will barely obtain for them a bar of soap or perhaps three loaves of bread.
In this interview given to the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, the bishop spoke about the situation in his country, how it developed, and what his role has been as a pastor of the Church.
Q: How would you describe the situations of the Zimbabweans?
Bishop Scholz: I think it is fair to say that many, perhaps the majority of the people in Zimbabwe have lost hope that things will ever change.
They have hoped for the better part of last decade, ten years, that their suffering, their hunger, their unemployment, their poverty, their suffering from various diseases for which they can no longer get cures in the hospitals, that this will come to an end.
There have many attempts to remedy the situation but all have somehow failed.
Q: What personal stories can you tell us to give us an idea of this ongoing suffering?
Bishop Scholz: During the crisis between the general election at the end of March 2008 and the so-called run-off presidential election at the end of June, in those three months there was an attempt to physically eliminate the opposition to the ruling party, the Movement for Democratic Change. To eliminate that opposition through physical beatings, torture, and killings, and in one of my parishes, in Banket, barely 20 km [12 miles] from Chinhoyi, a young man who was our youth leader, Joshua Bakacheza was abducted sometime in May; he had already gone into hiding; he was employed as a driver for the Movement for Democratic Change, and that was really all he had in terms of connection with the opposition.
He was abducted one day, and to find him — because he already gone into hiding — the agents of the State Security Police went to his younger brother who is still in school and said: “We found a donor to offer you a scholarship to see you through your school until the end of your secondary education,” and as they had expected the young boy promptly phoned his elder brother on a cell phone and ask him to come to sign the contract.
So he came and when he arrived at the school he was promptly arrested. He disappeared he was not seen again until three weeks later. His half burned and mutilated body was found near a place called Beatrice, south of Harare, the capital city, and this caused a tremendous emotion of anger, and sadness, and despair throughout the diocese where he was well known.
So this is one case, and I can tell you many more of priests who were attacked, whose house was set on fire because they were presumed to be sympathizers with the political opposition.
And we don’t understand how differences in political attitudes can lead to such cruelty; it’s a mystery, and anybody who has had difficulty in believing that there is not only evil in the world but the evil one who sends out his other evil spirits, as St. Ignatius says in the spiritual exercises the first week, a text which I was well familiar with.
Ignatius speaks in the image and language of his time, and the images and language of his time about Lucifer sitting in the great plain of Babylon on a throne of fire and smoke, calling together all the demons of the world and then sending them out with his instructions to commit evil.
During those three months that I just mentioned I understood the images and language in which St. Ignatius spoke in the 16th century; they are more real than I had thought.
We’ve seen evil running through the whole country from north to south and east to west.
Q: Why has Zimbabwe, if you will, been chosen for this cross?
Bishop Scholz: That I think is a long story. As you know the first settlers arrived in the 19th century and conquered the land by violence, greed and fraud.
They took away the land from the people. They made the people work for them. It’s true that the infrastructures that we have now are the fruit of the labor of the people and of the knowledge of the settlers; however there was much cruelty, much injustice, though not quite as institutionalized as in South Africa, also racial segregation and discrimination.
These lead to the civil war, the uprising of the African Nationalist Movement. There were actually two movements. Robert Mugabe was the head of the Zimbabwe African National Union.
Q: In a so-called Bush War, is that correct?
Bishop Scholz: Yes, yes, bush wars from the point of view of the guerillas representing the interests of the local people, but of course the Rhodesian army supported by South Africa used modern technology and methods of warfare and that is probably why in the end the guerillas won, because ultimately it was a bush, a civil war in the bush.
Q: But what you are trying to say, if I can understand or follow you correctly, is that you are saying that the land of Zimbabwe was borne out of violence?
Bishop Scholz: What I’m trying to say is that, for the whole of the period from the arrival of the settlers until this day, there has never been a period of serene and tranquil peace.
There has always been violence, not always physical, sometimes structural through the laws of discrimination of enforcing poverty, of depriving the people of the vote, and, for the future let me say this now, perhaps we come back to it later, but for the future I’m hopeful, having gone through this suffering and evil, that it has changed both the whites and the black people.
Bishop Scholz: It has changed them in the sense that after the civil war in the 80s I met white people who said that the war had helped them to understand the goodness, really the Christian qualities of the African people especially their tremendous patience, tolerance and readiness to forgive.
They have never known this before and without the war maybe they would have never known it.
On the African side, the qualities that I just mentioned lead to the fact that the racist rhetoric by the political leaders never caught on among the people.
People are very friendly to those few whites that are still in Zimbabwe, maybe a few thousand. In a sense I would say that Robert Mugabe is a prisoner of his own past and he is a prisoner of his own political generation. I see in his character many similarities with Ian Smith.
Q: At the end of his period of power?
Bishop Scholz: Towards the end.
Q: So in fact, what you are saying if I can follow correctly, we are coming to the end of the passion of Zimbabwe and we are looking forward to the resurrection of the country?
Bishop Scholz: That is right. We have to go through this and I think Robert Mugabe and his generation will have to finish what they have done, but the next generations will be very different.
I know the people. There is a great future for Zimbabwe.
As you know Zimbabweans were the best educated Africans south of the Sahara when the country became independent despite the civil war, and there is no doubt that the work of the missionaries had very much to do with this, the schools that we built and the studies that we facilitated for African students.
Morgan Tzvangerai was a student at Silveira House where I worked for ten years. Silveira House started training the first black trade union leaders.
Q: He is Catholic educated?
Bishop Scholz: He is Catholic educated, educated but not Catholic, but Catholic educated.
And Robert Mugabe for him Silveira House was like a home during the war and after the war. We employed his two sisters, Brigit and Sabina, to give them an income, to give them work and above all to give
them protection, and Robert Mugabe hasn’t forgotten that. He came to my ordination two years ago, brought a beautiful present.
Q: He goes to Mass?
Bishop Scholz: He used to go to Mass. He doesn’t go to Mass as often as he used to; that is another mystery in his life which I’m unable to fathom how he is able to reconcile in his conscience his faith, and his politics and his action.
Q: How do you see your role as a shepherd now in this time and what is the role of the Church in this time as all of the structures fall apart around the Church, the Church seems to be one of the last voices of opposition to the present situation? How do you see yourself in this very difficult role of pastor and yet at the same time of the one who gives a voice to those who have no voice?
Bishop Scholz: My primary role is to support the priests in their even more difficult work.
They have been through a real period of persecution since the pastoral letter “God hears the cry of the oppressed,” which was published last year, following that pastoral letter in Easter 2007 our priests were persecuted especially in our province.
Q: How were they persecuted?
Bishop Scholz: Anonymous phone calls, threatening phone calls, insults by leading Catholics, Catholic women, leading Catholic women in our diocese phoning up the chairman of the pastoral council and telling him that your priest — that is the priest who gives her Holy Communion when she comes to Mass on Sundays — your priests are thugs, thieves and drunkards and if they do not stop talking the way they do they will see what we see what we do to them, this kind of threat.
And I think this is a pastoral challenge that we still need to take up when the dust is settled; confront our own faithful and their consciences with the demands of the faith: the simple demands of justice on the one hand and the way they supported what was happening this year between March and June and the way of speaking and acting while coming to Mass and while wearing their Church uniforms.
We haven’t been able to do this because of the tensions in the Christian community but also in the community at large and the constant intimidation to which we have been exposed.
So I would say my first role was, and I’ve tried to do this as best as I could to support the priests when they had to flee their parishes as some of them had to do; we welcomed them at the bishop’s house or the pastoral centre, made sure that they were secure.
The first one now I was able to send to England for a period of rest and recuperation, and spiritual renewal, and two other will follow in the next few weeks.
Q: So exhaustion is a problem among your priests?
Bishop Scholz: Exhaustion, physical exhaustion, but also emotional and psychological exhaustion.
It is difficult to imagine if you are in a closed society in Zimbabwe where lawlessness prevails and if someone assaults you verbally or physically and you go to the police to complain or if I go to the police to complain, I will be arrested for disturbing the peace and for attacking other people.
So I would say these are the primary roles of the bishop, to support the priests and to support the faithful in my travels across the diocese, which covers the whole of the northern and northeastern part of Zimbabwe.
I’ve spoken to the faithful and tried to rekindle the faith. In most cases these journeys are linked to giving the Sacrament of Confirmation and that is a wonderful opportunity to speak to them about the gifts of the Holy Spirit: the spirit of consolation, the spirit of faith, the spirit of hope.
And I was always, I felt I’ve been given much more than I was able to give through my words, seeing the faith of the Christians throughout this suffering.
I think persecution brings out perhaps the worst among the persecutors, but also the best among the faithful.
Q: You’ve been very open with us. Are you not afraid? How far are you willing to carry your cross in this situation, because you are speaking very openly, you have spoken publicly before; the bishops have spoken publicly in Zimbabwe through the publication of the pastoral letter? How far are the bishops, how far are you willing to go in this situation?
Bishop Scholz: Well, I don’t really have a problem with this partly because during the liberation war I was involved with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace together with Bishop Lamont who was our president and three others.
I was arrested. I was jailed. I was expelled.
We spoke the truth then and I feel that we have to speak the truth now, and that is what we did in our pastoral letter.
Another confirmation that I think that we had addressed the issue in its core was the unprecedented anger of the government. They were really, really angry.
And to this day when we do meet with government officials there is not one opportunity when the so-called pastoral letter, they only refer to “the pastoral letter;” since then we’ve written one or two more and before that we had also had written pastoral letters, but they speak about “the pastoral letter.”
I think this needed to be. You asked before: What do the bishops do? I think our role is, on the one hand support our priests, be with our people, walk with our people through this darkest, perhaps the darkest hour of the recent history of our country, and at the same time also act out our prophetic role, our prophetic ministry to speak the truth.
Q: And of the resurrection that is to come?
Bishop Scholz: Yes, and the truth has been heard on both sides.
Q: You have spoken a lot about the internal situation in Zimbabwe. What about the international community? Have you felt let down or abandoned with regards to the situation in Zimbabwe?
Bishop Scholz: No we haven’t. There have been words and action of support from all corners of the world, emails, letters, donations, small donations, large donations, and just now when we had this crisis that I spoke about between the elections at the end of March and the presidential run-off in June we had a crisis.
We have five hospitals in our diocese and with the breakdown of the public health sector, those who were traumatized by state agents came to our hospitals for treatment.
Initially they were even refused for weeks to seek medical help and get medical help, but when they came with huge wounds on their buttocks — you could put your fist in the wound — we just didn’t have enough medicine, and this was the time when Father Halamba came along from Aid to the Church in Need and I just told him the situation as it was and within days he made the most generous donation available of medicine which allowed us to restock the hospitals.
Q: Are you not angry about what is happening to your country?
Bishop Scholz: Of course I’m angry, and when I’m angry in the evening I go to my chapel and I wait till I’m less angry or till I’m at peace and in prayer I find that equilibrium.
But how can you be at peace when a third year seminarian who is going to be ordained deacon when I get back comes to me and says: “My father was murdered yesterday, 62 years old, because they suspected him of being a member of the opposition, which he wasn’t”?
A neighbor who had some ancient grudge denounced him to the militia and the militia came and took some wooden planks and sticks and beat him to death in front of his wife.
How can one not be angry? They tried to phone up the police, and they said “We can’t open the docket because we do not have a photocopier.”
This is what I mean when I say that the truth will have to come out. The perpetuators will have to be named. They will have to be confronted with their actions and then we can begin the process of reconciliation perhaps even of an amnesty.
This is the mistake, if I may add that, which we made at the end of the civil war, the liberation war. In a gesture of great generosity, and I think it was genuine, Robert Mugabe said: “We will draw a line here.
We will not go back to the past, and we make a new start.”
I think when he said this on the eve of independence, he was genuine. It wasn’t a ploy. I know some whites who were on their way to South Africa, to emigrate, to flee because of what they’ve been told by Ian Smith Robert Mugabe would do to them.
I know one family who actually stopped by the roadside, said a prayer, and then discussed and turned around and went back, and they continued farming in the country.
So it was very generous, but we are all human beings and the unsettled scores of that war still festered on in the local communities.
Q: So there cannot be any peace without justice?
Bishop Scholz: There cannot be reconciliation without truth.
The truth has to come out. It has to be acknowledged.
I think forgiveness has to be asked for and then it will be given. In an ideal community, perhaps one could say, well we draw a line here and make a new start, but being what we are, who we are; the wounds of the heart heal much more slowly than the wounds of the body. I see that now too.
Q: What would be your call? What would be your appeal to the Catholic viewers watching this programme for Zimbabwe?
Bishop Scholz: My first appeal is to continue to pray for Zimbabwe, to pray for peace, to pray for the courage of the leaders who lost the election to let go. In the interest of the people and of the nation; let someone else take over.
The election was a vote for change. It wasn’t a vote for an elaborate manifesto.
People just said: “We are tired, we are hungry, we are without work, without schools, without hospitals, we want change.”
If our leaders could recognize that and be generous enough to let go despite the fear of what they may have to face, then the prayers of the Catholics who listen to this programme would be fulfilled.
It would be a miracle but a miracle that could happen.
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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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On the Net:
The video of this interview: www.wheregodweeps.org/a-church-punished-for-ist-opposition
For more information: www.WhereGodWeeps.org