New head of Zimbabwean archdiocese says he’ll focus on poverty relief

alex_kaliyanilCape Town - The new archbishop of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, said he will focus on poverty relief and development rather than trying to fill the gap left by his predecessor, who was arguably Zimbabwe's most outspoken critic of human rights abuses under President Robert Mugabe. "My priority is people, and here they need spiritual and material help," said

The Indian archbishop-designate, named to Bulawayo June 20, has worked mostly in rural parts of the archdiocese since he arrived in the southern African country in 1989. Since a unity government was formed in February, “the country has moved forward, with humanitarian aid coming in, and people are more hopeful of positive change in their lives,” Archbishop-designate Kaliyanil said in a telephone interview. Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, has an unemployment rate of more than 90 percent, and most people in the archdiocese need international food aid. The archbishop-designate, who has been an adviser to the Catholic aid agency Caritas Zimbabwe, said challenges he faces in his new job include “poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment and HIV/AIDS.”

Joseph Buchena Nkatazo, Bulawayo coordinator of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, said psychological and spiritual wounds in the Bulawayo Archdiocese are “very deep.” Part of the church in Zimbabwe’s efforts to aid the country’s move to peace is a nationwide reconciliation program, run by the justice and peace commission, to bring together perpetrators of violence and their victims. Based in the commission’s head office in the capital, Harare, the program was established to bridge the gap between supporters of different political parties in the country as well as to heal the wounds of violence that followed 2008 elections. The commission in Bulawayo has found that people attending their workshops “weep as they tell the stories of what happened to them and their loved ones in Gukurahundi,” Nkatazo said in a June 26 telephone interview. In the 1981-87 Gukurahundi campaign, government troops were responsible for the murders of about 20,000 people, as well as torture and human rights abuses in the western Matabeleland province, which includes the archdiocese. “It is still as fresh as if it had happened yesterday,” Nkatazo said. As well as addressing the issue of restitution, “which is a big issue raised in our program countrywide,” the archdiocese is training counselors in an attempt to meet the need of its people’s trauma, he said. Bulawayo has been without an archbishop since September 2007 when Archbishop Pius Ncube resigned in the midst of a sex scandal.

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