HARARE — Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams strongly criticized the government of Robert Mugabeon Sunday and told thousands of cheering Anglican members in Harare not to retaliate against attacks on the church in Zimbabwe.
Williams' comments risk angering the Zimbabwean president, who has not yet confirmed whether he would meet the Anglican archbishop, on a rare visit to Zimbabwe.
Williams, who travelled with police escort, was greeted by thousands of singing and cheering Anglican members at an indoor sports centre in Harare where he delivered a sermon attended by bishops from South Africa, Zambia, Bostwana and Tanzania.
"For a long period in this country, an anxious ruling class clung on to the power they had seized at the expense of the indigenous people and ignored their rights and their hopes for dignity and political freedom...
"How tragic that this should be replaced by another kind of lawlessness, where so many live in daily fear of attack if they fail to comply with what the powerful require of them," Williams told the crowd.
He said people in Zimbabwe had been victims of greed and violence. "In this community, there can be no place for violence or for retaliation".
"You know that their greed and violence have tried to silence your worships and frustrate your witnesses in church, schools and hospitals. You have discovered that it is not the buildings that make a true church but the true foundations on which your lives are built," he said.
"The message we want to send from this Eucharist celebration is that we do not have to live like that, in terror, in bloodshed."
The Anglican Church is appealing against an Aug. 4 ruling that gave rebel bishop Nolbert Kunonga, a Mugabe supporter who leads a breakaway faction of the church, custody of the church's Zimbabwean properties.
He has used the ruling to take over church hospitals and schools and ejected bishops and officials from church buildings, forcing congregants to worship in private schools and halls.
Kunonga is a former head of the Anglican church in the country but resigned in 2007 claiming homosexual priests and congregants had gained influence in the church, although it does not conduct same-sex marriages or ordain gay priests.
Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba told state media that the 87-year-old leader would question Williams on the church's silence on Western sanctions against him and its position on homosexuality.
Western countries led by former colonial power Britain have maintained financial and travel sanctions on Mugabe and senior members from his ZANU-PF party since 2000 over charges of human rights abuse and electoral fraud. Mugabe denies the charges.
Williams said the Anglican Church had no political interests in Zimbabwe but would criticise injustice against citizens.
He said the door was open for Kunonga's group to return to the main Anglican Church.
"We might even find strength to say to our enemies and persecutors, the door is open for you, accept what God offers, turn away from the death dealing folly of violence.
"It is on the basis of this vision that we urge all people to say no to violence especially as the next election approaches in this country."
Earlier, a group of about 200 members from Kunonga's faction marched in central Harare denouncing homosexuality.
© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.