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 CNS Story:

MUGABE-BISHOPS May-4-2007 (460 words) xxxi

Zimbabwean president warns country's bishops are on 'dangerous path'

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has warned his nation's bishops that they are treading "a dangerous path" by criticizing the government.

He said he was angry about the Easter pastoral letter in which the bishops said Zimbabwe was in "deep crisis" and "extreme danger" because of the country's "overtly corrupt" leadership.

Mugabe, a Marist-educated Catholic, told the London-based New African magazine that he was not at Mass on Easter to hear the bishops' letter read.

"If I had gone to church and the priest had read that so-called pastoral letter, I would have stood up and said 'nonsense,'" he said in an interview in the May edition of the magazine.

Mugabe, 83, said the letter is not "something spiritual, it is not religious," and the bishops "have decided to turn political."

"And once they turn political, we regard them as no longer being spiritual, and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities, and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves," he said.

"For our bishops, this is a sad, sad story," Mugabe added.

Mugabe confirmed that he would soon be meeting with the bishops to discuss their concerns but did not give a date. He said he would refuse to speak to Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, who has been severely critical of Mugabe.

Mugabe said Archbishop Ncube has "long been a lost bishop."

"He thinks he is close to God, that's why he says he is praying for me to die," said Mugabe. "But, unfortunately, God has not listened to him for all this duration. I don't know how many times a day he is saying that prayer: 'Please God, take that man Robert Mugabe away from us.'

"I have said it once at a Catholic gathering that being a bishop does not place one next to God, nor does it make one a chosen person for sainthood.

"No. A bishop can go to hell while an ordinary person goes to heaven, depending on the character of the person," he said, adding that he will say more when he meets with the bishops.

Mugabe, who has been president since the nation became independent from Great Britain in 1980, has been accused of destroying Zimbabwe's prosperity and oppressing the people, particularly those he suspects of voting against him.

Unemployment is running at more than 80 percent and the country's annual inflation rate of 1,700 percent is the highest in the world.

Food shortages are acute; large numbers of people are migrating to the neighboring countries of South Africa and Botswana; and, with elections approaching in March, political violence has intensified.


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