The Anglican Communion’s Archbishop of Canterbury has delivered a reassuring message to Anglicans in Zimbabwe, telling them how God triumphs even in the midst of adversity.
More than 15,000 Anglicans packed a sports stadium in Harare on Sunday to hear Dr. Rowan Williams preach.
The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has faced years of harassment at the hands of authorities, with services suffering violent disruption and priests being forced off church property.
Much of the interference stems from an excommunicated bishop who is a close ally of President Robert Mugabe and determined to make his own Anglican church in the country.
Williams thanked Zimbabwean Anglicans for giving so much to the Church worldwide and continuing to serve the needy in the face of the “injustice and arrogance of ‘false brethren’.”
Attacking the intimidation tactics, Williams said Anglicans in Zimbabwe “know very well what it means to have doors locked in your faces by those who claim the name of Christians and Anglicans.”
“You know how those who by their greed and violence have refused the grace of God try to silence your worship and frustrate your witness in the churches and schools and hospitals of this country,” he said.
“But you also know what Jesus’ parable teaches us so powerfully – that the will of God to invite people to his feast is so strong that it can triumph even over these mindless and godless assaults.
“Just as the Risen Jesus breaks through the locked doors of fear and suspicion, so he continues to call you and empower you in spite of all efforts to defeat you.”
The archbishop paid tribute to the strength of the Church in Zimbabwe in spite of the difficulties, as he extended an olive branch to the persecutors.
“In your faith and endurance, you have kept your eyes on that open door when the doors of your own churches have been shut against you,” he said.
“You have discovered that it is not the buildings that make a true church but the spiritual foundations on which your lives are built.
“And as we together give thanks for the open door that God puts before us, we may even find the strength to say to our enemies and persecutors, ‘The door is open for you! Accept what God offers and turn away from the death-dealing folly of violence.’”
Turning his attention to leadership in the country, the archbishop held back from mentioning President Mugabe by name but expressed his regret that colonial rule had been replaced by “another kind of lawlessness.”
“For a long period in this country, an anxious ruling class clung on to the power they had seized at the expense of the indigenous people and ignored their rights and their hopes for dignity and political freedom," he said. "How tragic that this should be replaced by another kind of lawlessness, where so many live in daily fear of attack if they fail to comply with what the powerful require of them.”
Williams, who has requested a meeting with President Mugabe, lamented the misuse of Zimbabwe’s agricultural and mineral abundance that has led to conflict and hunger in a country that has the capacity to feed its people.
Instead of using natural resources for private gain or political advantage, he urged the country’s leaders to use what they had for the good of communities.
“We have seen years in which the land has not been used to feed people and lies idle; and we have begun to see how this mineral wealth can become a curse – as it so often has been in Africa, as people are killed and communities destroyed in the fight for diamonds that will forever be marked with the blood of the innocent.”
Anglicans are in the midst of a difficult battle to hold onto their property after the Zimbabwean Supreme Court awarded control of church property to excommunicated bishop Dr Nolbert Kunonga.
Kunonga led demonstrations against the archbishop’s visit outside a cathedral in capital Harare on Sunday.