'Hasten to prayer'

Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Principal Secretary to the Primate, is accompanying Archbishop Fred Hiltz to the Primates’ Meeting in Alexandria, Egypt and is filing occasional reports.

As the small band of journalist prepared for the news conference today the talk was all about the report of the Windsor Continuation Group. Each reporter wondered if one of the others had heard or seen anything that would give them an exclusive about what was in it. We all hoped for greater clarity when the press conference began.

We received the briefest of information — that the Primates had spent more time than scheduled talking and that the agreement to keep its contents confidential to the end of the meeting will be honoured.

We received another brief report on theological education in the Communion and some proposals that will be taken to the Anglican Consultative Meeting in May. Late last evening the Primates focused on a presentation on global warming by Bishop David Moxon of New Zealand.

The main focus of the news conference was on a presentation the Primates had heard Monday evening about Zimbabwe.

The concept of a global village felt very real as I, a Canadian sitting in a palatial hotel on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria Egypt, heard from an African Bishop about some incredible horror and violence in a country some 5,500 kilometres away on this continent.

Two bishops shared some of the story about what Christians in Zimbabwe face. Archbishop Thabo Magkoba the Primate of Southern Africa and the Rt. Rev. Albert Chama, Bishop of Zambia and dean of the Anglican Province of Central Africa who represents the Province of Central Africa here at the primates meeting, spoke.

Archbishop Thabo spoke passionately about the urgency of the situation and about the total collapse of the economic, social and political infrastructure. The primates were asked to assist with humanitarian aid and to call for the resignation of Robert Mugabe who continues to hold power despite losing an election last March. South Africa is a neighbour to Zimbabwe and has been receiving so many refugees that they are impossible to count. The Archbishop recognized, paraphrasing Matthew 25, that when his neighbour is in need he and his church must be there.

Bishop Chama talked of some of the difficulties inside the country where Christians have been barred form their own buildings. The former Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, a close friend of Mugabe, has been expelled from the Anglican Church but still holds all the church property propped up by renegade police officials.

Archbishop Thabo explained that Mugabe is free to travel around the world while scores of people are killed and tortured. The tall, young Archbishop challenged the Primates, our ecumenical partners and other international voices to stop giving Mugabe a carte blanche and to become a choir singing in unison the same song of calling for justice and his removal. The Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and the Archbishop of Canterbury have led the call. Archbishop Thabo, in a voice of prayer said, “God’s people are suffering, Let it become God’s place.”

Bishop Chama spoke of a recent outbreak of cholera, which is adding to the misery of people already devastated by hunger, war and oppression.

A difficult moment in the news conference arose over the question of whether armed resistance should be employed. The references were to the Ugandan born Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, who while being interviewed on the BBC cut his clerical collar in pieces, noting that it is about identity and Mr Mugabe had taken the identity of the Zimbabwean people and “cut it into pieces.”

Archbishop John, who is here as Primate of England, has called for Mugabe to be forced out of power “In Uganda, we were beaten, tortured, abused and hundreds were murdered, but never did we starve to death or see the level of suffering which is to be found in today’s Zimbabwe. … As a country cries out for justice, we can no longer be inactive to their call,” he said.

Archbishop Thabo understood only too well what the Archbishop of York was calling for and reminded us of the similar struggles in South Africa over apartheid. He said that it is necessary to pull out all the stops and try everything before any such action is taken. It was clear to me that he is man of peace and would try every possible avenue to achieve the goal of removing Mugabe before any armed conflict would be appropriate.

The Primates have issued a statement and I would note the call on parishes throughout the communion, “to assist the Anglican Communion Office, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Office and the Anglican Observer to the United Nations in addressing the humanitarian crisis by giving aid. … We urge the churches of the Anglican Communion to join with the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in observing Wednesday 25th February 2009, Ash Wednesday, as a day of prayer and solidarity with the Zimbabwean people.”

As I work in my hotel room I can hear the Muslim call to prayer five times a day. The call to prayer is heard at dawn, at midday, about the middle of the afternoon, just after sunset, and at nightfall about two hours after sunset. The muezzin, a man appointed to call to prayer, climbs the minaret of the mosque, and he calls over the loud speakers in all directions, “Hasten to prayer.”

Hearing of the needs hopes and fears of the people of Zimbabwe is for all of us a call to prayer and no doubt the people of that country facing cholera, destitution, starvation and the systemic abuse of power by the state would indeed say to us “hasten to pray.”

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