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Zimbabwean Bishops' Letter on the Poor

Response to "Operation Restore Order"

HARARE, Zimbabwe, JUNE 21, 2005 (Zenit) - The Zimbabwe Catholic bishops' conference issued this pastoral letter on the nation's dire situation.

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Pastoral Letter of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference
June 2005

We, the members of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, issued a press statement on June 2, 2005, in regard to the "clean up" operation, dubbed "Operation Restore Order'' in which we expressed our dismay at the suffering and hardship experienced by the most vulnerable members of society in some areas nationwide. Now, almost four weeks after the event, countless numbers of men, women with babies, children of school age, the old and the sick, continue to sleep in the open air at winter temperatures near to freezing. These people urgently need shelter, food, clothing, medicines, etc. Any claim to justify this operation in view of a desired orderly end becomes totally groundless in view of the cruel and inhumane means that have been used. People have a right to shelter and that has been deliberately destroyed in this operation without much warning. While we all desire orderliness, alternative accommodation and sources of income should have been identified and provided before the demolitions and stoppage of informal trading. We condemn the gross injustice done to the poor.

As a follow-up to our press statement, we wish to offer a pastoral reflection on recent events based on Scripture and on the Social Teaching of the Church.


In the gospel of Sunday, June 5, while these events were taking place, Jesus tells us "what I want is mercy, not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13). His words reflect those of the Old Testament prophets who continually state that prayers and sacrifices are of no value unless there is concern for the poor and needy (Amos 5:1-4). There has been no concern for the poor and needy in this Operation and the prayers and offerings of those responsible find no favour before God.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us "to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless poor and to clothe the man seen to be naked" (Isaiah 58:5-7).

The entire ministry of Jesus is marked by concern for the weak and vulnerable. Jesus tells us that we will be judged at the end of time on whether we have shared this concern, and he has terrible words to say to those who saw him hungry, thirsty, a stranger, or naked, or sick (or homeless ...) and neglected to help him (Matthews 25:42-46).

As Christians we must hear the cry of the poor and the homeless in our townships and villages and support them in their efforts to gradually rebuild their lives. In this task we should be motivated and guided by the Social Teaching of the Church.

The Social Teaching of the Church

The Social Teaching of the Church sheds the light of the gospel on issues that affect our lives in society, and offers the church's wisdom, insight and experience in dealing with them. This teaching, based on scripture, has developed over more than a hundred years, and is mainly found in Papal letters and documents emanating from Synods and Conferences of Bishops. It contains a number of principles, which are particularly relevant at this time:

1. The Dignity of the Human Person

Created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), each person has an innate human dignity, given to us, not by secular authorities, but by the Creator himself. This dignity was gravely violated by the ruthless manner in which "Operation Restore Order" was conducted in the townships and other areas.

Every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out for vengeance to God and is an offence against the Creator of the individual ("Christifideles Laici," 37 -- Pope John Paul II).

2. The Basic Rights of the Human Person

Basic human rights are an offshoot of our God-given dignity. Every human being -- man, woman and child -- has the right to life, shelter, clothing, food, education, health care, employment, etc. These basic rights have been and are being violated. No secular authority, no group, or no individual should be allowed to violate such rights.

As Christian leaders we must continually remind authorities of both their duty to respect and uphold human rights, and of the serious consequences of failure to observe such rights. Furthermore, it is our duty as a teaching Church to form and educate Christian people in rights, values and principles -- a task that we will continue to perform.

3. The Promotion of the Common Good

Public authorities should promote the common good of all members of society -- not the good of an elite group -- by creating an environment in which economic, social, cultural and ...

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