CHINHOYI, Zimbabwe, 28 MARCH 2010 (ZENIT
Zimbabwe in the local language means "house of stones." Today
this house is collapsing, says the bishop of Chinhoyi.
Bishop Dieter Scholz affirmed that in his country,
unemployment is estimated to be approximately 80%, and if people
do earn a salary, it will barely obtain for them a bar of soap
or perhaps three loaves of bread.
In this interview given to the television program "Where God
Weeps" of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in
cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, the bishop spoke
about the situation in his country, how it developed, and what
his role has been as a pastor of the Church.
Q: How would you describe the situations of the Zimbabweans?
Bishop Scholz: I think it is fair to say that many, perhaps
the majority of the people in Zimbabwe have lost hope that
things will ever change.
They have hoped for the better part of last decade, ten
years, that their suffering, their hunger, their unemployment,
their poverty, their suffering from various diseases for which
they can no longer get cures in the hospitals, that this will
come to an end.
There have many attempts to remedy the situation but all have
Q: What personal stories can you tell us to give us an idea
of this ongoing suffering?
Bishop Scholz: During the crisis between the general election
at the end of March 2008 and the so-called run-off presidential
election at the end of June, in those three months there was an
attempt to physically eliminate the opposition to the ruling
party, the Movement for Democratic Change. To eliminate that
opposition through physical beatings, torture, and killings, and
in one of my parishes, in Banket, barely 20 km [12 miles] from
Chinhoyi, a young man who was our youth leader, Joshua Bakacheza
was abducted sometime in May; he had already gone into hiding;
he was employed as a driver for the Movement for Democratic
Change, and that was really all he had in terms of connection
with the opposition.
He was abducted one day, and to find him
because he already gone into hiding
the agents of the State Security Police went to his younger
brother who is still in school and said: "We found a donor to
offer you a scholarship to see you through your school until the
end of your secondary education," and as they had expected the
young boy promptly phoned his elder brother on a cell phone and
ask him to come to sign the contract.
So he came and when he arrived at the school he was promptly
arrested. He disappeared he was not seen again until three weeks
later. His half burned and mutilated body was found near a place
called Beatrice, south of Harare, the capital city, and this
caused a tremendous emotion of anger, and sadness, and despair
throughout the diocese where he was well known.
So this is one case, and I can tell you many more of priests
who were attacked, whose house was set on fire because they were
presumed to be sympathizers with the political opposition.
And we don't understand how differences in political
attitudes can lead to such cruelty; it's a mystery, and anybody
who has had difficulty in believing that there is not only evil
in the world but the evil one who sends out his other evil
spirits, as St. Ignatius says in the spiritual exercises the
first week, a text which I was well familiar with.
Ignatius speaks in the image and language of his time, and
the images and language of his time about Lucifer sitting in the
great plain of Babylon on a throne of fire and smoke, calling
together all the demons of the world and then sending them out
with his instructions to commit evil.
During those three months that I just mentioned I understood
the images and language in which St. Ignatius spoke in the 16th
century; they are more real than I had thought.
We've seen evil running through the whole country from north
to south and east to west.
Q: Why has Zimbabwe, if you will, been chosen for this cross?
Bishop Scholz: That I think is a long story. As you know the
first settlers arrived in the 19th century and conquered the
land by violence, greed and fraud.
They took away the land from the people. They made the people
work for them. It's true that the infrastructures that we have
now are the fruit of the labor of the people and of the
knowledge of the settlers; however there was much cruelty, much
injustice, though not quite as institutionalized as in South
Africa, also racial segregation and discrimination.
These lead to the civil war, the uprising of the African
Nationalist Movement. There were actually two movements. Robert
Mugabe was the head of the Zimbabwe African National Union.
Q: In a so-called Bush War, is that correct?
Bishop Scholz: Yes, yes, bush wars from the point of view of
the guerillas representing the interests of the local people,
but of course the Rhodesian army supported by South Africa used
modern technology and methods of warfare and that is probably
why in the end the guerillas won, because ultimately it was a
bush, a civil war in the bush.
Q: But what you are trying to say, if I can understand or
follow you correctly, is that you are saying that the land of
Zimbabwe was borne out of violence?
Bishop Scholz: What I'm trying to say is that, for the whole
of the period from the arrival of the settlers until this day,
there has never been a period of serene and tranquil peace.
There has always been violence, not always physical,
sometimes structural through the laws of discrimination of
enforcing poverty, of depriving the people of the vote, and, for
the future let me say this now, perhaps we come back to it
later, but for the future I'm hopeful, having gone through this
suffering and evil, that it has changed both the whites and the
Bishop Scholz: It has changed them in the sense that after
the civil war in the 80s I met white people who said that the
war had helped them to understand the goodness, really the
Christian qualities of the African people especially their
tremendous patience, tolerance and readiness to forgive.
They have never known this before and without the war maybe
they would have never known it.
On the African side, the qualities that I just mentioned lead
to the fact that the racist rhetoric by the political leaders
never caught on among the people.
People are very friendly to those few whites that are still
in Zimbabwe, maybe a few thousand. In a sense I would say that
Robert Mugabe is a prisoner of his own past and he is a prisoner
of his own political generation. I see in his character many
similarities with Ian Smith.
Q: At the end of his period of power?
Bishop Scholz: Towards the end.
Q: So in fact, what you are saying if I can follow correctly,
we are coming to the end of the passion of Zimbabwe and we are
looking forward to the resurrection of the country?
Bishop Scholz: That is right. We have to go through this and
I think Robert Mugabe and his generation will have to finish
what they have done, but the next generations will be very
I know the people. There is a great future for Zimbabwe.
As you know Zimbabweans were the best educated Africans south
of the Sahara when the country became independent despite the
civil war, and there is no doubt that the work of the
missionaries had very much to do with this, the schools that we
built and the studies that we facilitated for African students.
Morgan Tzvangerai was a student at Silveira House where I
worked for ten years. Silveira House started training the first
black trade union leaders.
Q: He is Catholic educated?
Bishop Scholz: He is Catholic educated, educated but not
Catholic, but Catholic educated.
And Robert Mugabe for him Silveira House was like a home
during the war and after the war. We employed his two sisters,
Brigit and Sabina, to give them an income, to give them work and
above all to give them protection, and Robert Mugabe hasn't
forgotten that. He came to my ordination two years ago, brought
a beautiful present.
Q: He goes to Mass?
Bishop Scholz: He used to go to Mass. He doesn't go to Mass
as often as he used to; that is another mystery in his life
which I'm unable to fathom how he is able to reconcile in his
conscience his faith, and his politics and his action.
Q: How do you see your role as a shepherd now in this time
and what is the role of the Church in this time as all of the
structures fall apart around the Church, the Church seems to be
one of the last voices of opposition to the present situation?
How do you see yourself in this very difficult role of pastor
and yet at the same time of the one who gives a voice to those
who have no voice?
Bishop Scholz: My primary role is to support the priests in
their even more difficult work.
They have been through a real period of persecution since the
pastoral letter "God hears the cry of the oppressed," which was
published last year, following that pastoral letter in Easter
2007 our priests were persecuted especially in our province.
Q: How were they persecuted?
Bishop Scholz: Anonymous phone calls, threatening phone
calls, insults by leading Catholics, Catholic women, leading
Catholic women in our diocese phoning up the chairman of the
pastoral council and telling him that your priest
that is the priest who gives her Holy Communion when she comes
to Mass on Sundays
your priests are thugs, thieves and drunkards and if they do not
stop talking the way they do they will see what we see what we
do to them, this kind of threat.
And I think this is a pastoral challenge that we still need
to take up when the dust is settled; confront our own faithful
and their consciences with the demands of the faith: the simple
demands of justice on the one hand and the way they supported
what was happening this year between March and June and the way
of speaking and acting while coming to Mass and while wearing
their Church uniforms.
We haven't been able to do this because of the tensions in
the Christian community but also in the community at large and
the constant intimidation to which we have been exposed.
So I would say my first role was, and I've tried to do this
as best as I could to support the priests when they had to flee
their parishes as some of them had to do; we welcomed them at
the bishop's house or the pastoral centre, made sure that they
The first one now I was able to send to England for a period
of rest and recuperation, and spiritual renewal, and two other
will follow in the next few weeks.
Q: So exhaustion is a problem among your priests?
Bishop Scholz: Exhaustion, physical exhaustion, but also
emotional and psychological exhaustion.
It is difficult to imagine if you are in a closed society in
Zimbabwe where lawlessness prevails and if someone assaults you
verbally or physically and you go to the police to complain or
if I go to the police to complain, I will be arrested for
disturbing the peace and for attacking other people.
So I would say these are the primary roles of the bishop, to
support the priests and to support the faithful in my travels
across the diocese, which covers the whole of the northern and
northeastern part of Zimbabwe.
I've spoken to the faithful and tried to rekindle the faith.
In most cases these journeys are linked to giving the Sacrament
of Confirmation and that is a wonderful opportunity to speak to
them about the gifts of the Holy Spirit: the spirit of
consolation, the spirit of faith, the spirit of hope.
And I was always, I felt I've been given much more than I was
able to give through my words, seeing the faith of the
Christians throughout this suffering.
I think persecution brings out perhaps the worst among the
persecutors, but also the best among the faithful.
Q: You've been very open with us. Are you not afraid? How far
are you willing to carry your cross in this situation, because
you are speaking very openly, you have spoken publicly before;
the bishops have spoken publicly in Zimbabwe through the
publication of the pastoral letter? How far are the bishops, how
far are you willing to go in this situation?
Bishop Scholz: Well, I don't really have a problem with this
partly because during the liberation war I was involved with the
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace together with Bishop
Lamont who was our president and three others.
I was arrested. I was jailed. I was expelled.
We spoke the truth then and I feel that we have to speak the
truth now, and that is what we did in our pastoral letter.
Another confirmation that I think that we had addressed the
issue in its core was the unprecedented anger of the government.
They were really, really angry.
And to this day when we do meet with government officials
there is not one opportunity when the so-called pastoral letter,
they only refer to "the pastoral letter;" since then we've
written one or two more and before that we had also had written
pastoral letters, but they speak about "the pastoral letter."
I think this needed to be. You asked before: What do the
bishops do? I think our role is, on the one hand support our
priests, be with our people, walk with our people through this
darkest, perhaps the darkest hour of the recent history of our
country, and at the same time also act out our prophetic role,
our prophetic ministry to speak the truth.
Q: And of the resurrection that is to come?
Bishop Scholz: Yes, and the truth has been heard on both
Q: You have spoken a lot about the internal situation in
Zimbabwe. What about the international community? Have you felt
let down or abandoned with regards to the situation in Zimbabwe?
Bishop Scholz: No we haven't. There have been words and
action of support from all corners of the world, emails,
letters, donations, small donations, large donations, and just
now when we had this crisis that I spoke about between the
elections at the end of March and the presidential run-off in
June we had a crisis.
We have five hospitals in our diocese and with the breakdown
of the public health sector, those who were traumatized by state
agents came to our hospitals for treatment.
Initially they were even refused for weeks to seek medical
help and get medical help, but when they came with huge wounds
on their buttocks
you could put your fist in the wound
we just didn't have enough medicine, and this was the time when
Father Halamba came along from Aid to the Church in Need and I
just told him the situation as it was and within days he made
the most generous donation available of medicine which allowed
us to restock the hospitals.
Q: Are you not angry about what is happening to your country?
Bishop Scholz: Of course I'm angry, and when I'm angry in the
evening I go to my chapel and I wait till I'm less angry or till
I'm at peace and in prayer I find that equilibrium.
But how can you be at peace when a third year seminarian who
is going to be ordained deacon when I get back comes to me and
says: "My father was murdered yesterday, 62 years old, because
they suspected him of being a member of the opposition, which he
A neighbor who had some ancient grudge denounced him to the
militia and the militia came and took some wooden planks and
sticks and beat him to death in front of his wife.
How can one not be angry? They tried to phone up the police,
and they said "We can't open the docket because we do not have a
This is what I mean when I say that the truth will have to
come out. The perpetuators will have to be named. They will have
to be confronted with their actions and then we can begin the
process of reconciliation perhaps even of an amnesty.
This is the mistake, if I may add that, which we made at the
end of the civil war, the liberation war. In a gesture of great
generosity, and I think it was genuine, Robert Mugabe said: "We
will draw a line here. We will not go back to the past, and we
make a new start."
I think when he said this on the eve of independence, he was
genuine. It wasn't a ploy. I know some whites who were on their
way to South Africa, to emigrate, to flee because of what
they've been told by Ian Smith Robert Mugabe would do to them.
I know one family who actually stopped by the roadside, said
a prayer, and then discussed and turned around and went back,
and they continued farming in the country.
So it was very generous, but we are all human beings and the
unsettled scores of that war still festered on in the local
Q: So there cannot be any peace without justice?
Bishop Scholz: There cannot be reconciliation without truth.
The truth has to come out. It has to be acknowledged.
I think forgiveness has to be asked for and then it will be
given. In an ideal community, perhaps one could say, well we
draw a line here and make a new start, but being what we are,
who we are; the wounds of the heart heal much more slowly than
the wounds of the body. I see that now too.
Q: What would be your call? What would be your appeal to the
Catholic viewers watching this programme for Zimbabwe?
Bishop Scholz: My first appeal is to continue to pray for
Zimbabwe, to pray for peace, to pray for the courage of the
leaders who lost the election to let go. In the interest of the
people and of the nation; let someone else take over.
The election was a vote for change. It wasn't a vote for an
People just said: "We are tired, we are hungry, we are
without work, without schools, without hospitals, we want
If our leaders could recognize that and be generous enough to
let go despite the fear of what they may have to face, then the
prayers of the Catholics who listen to this programme would be
It would be a miracle but a miracle that could happen.
* * *
This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for "Where God
Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic
Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the
international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.