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Archbishop of Canterbury to Pray in Zimbabwe

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (L), waves as he arrives at the Anglican church in the Thyolo district east of Blantyre, Malawi, October 7, 2011.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (L), waves as he arrives at the Anglican church in the Thyolo district east of Blantyre, Malawi, October 7, 2011.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, will conduct an open air mass Sunday for Zimbabwe’s Anglicans, who say they are persecuted by a renegade bishop. The Anglicans say the bishop has taken their churches, schools, clinics and shrines in the country’s largest diocese and that he is aligned with President Robert Mugabe.

The Archbishop says he wants to meet President Mugabe while in Zimbabwe during his visit to celebrate 150 years of the Anglican faith in central Africa.

Archbishop Williams will celebrate mass Sunday for thousands of Zimbabwe’s Anglicans at a city center sports stadium because the enormous Harare Anglican cathedral was taken over by an apostate bishop.

Williams has requested a meeting Monday with Mugabe, but so far has had no reply to his request.

Former Anglican Bishop of Harare Norbert Kunonga was elected Bishop of Harare, part of the Mashonaland diocese of the Church of the Province of Central Africa in 2000, but soon angered communities by removing colonial era artifacts from the cathedral.

After years of conflict and shrinking congregations, and attacks on parishioners who tried to worship in their traditional churches, Kunonga was excommunicated by the Church of the Province of Central Africa, and he set up the Anglican Church of Zimbabwe.

He then evicted priests from all Anglican churches and rectories, as well as office buildings, halls, mission schools and clinics in the diocese.

On Friday his supporters evicted a priest who also is a teacher at a school in the diocese, St Marks, 100 kilometers west of Harare.

Kunonga claims his rebellion against the mother church was sparked by support for homosexual marriage, which he says is against the scriptures.

Many Anglicans in Zimbabwe say they also do not support homosexual marriage, and accuse Kunonga of taking Anglican properties to generate income for himself and a number of men he has ordained as priests. Today, many of Harare's Anglicans worship in fields, in private clubs and homes, and sports clubs.

Kunonga’s spokesman and secretary, Admire Chisango, said Zimbabweans would stay away from the Archbishop of Canterbury's Sunday service.

“Now this issue of the Archbishop of Canterbury is a non event, it won’t attract any crowds, as you may think. Well, there will be people turning out to tell him to go back to his land and to go back with his foreign cultures," said Chisango. "People will not be happy to see him, but will be happy to see him out of Zimbabwe.”

Harare’s Anglican Bishop Chad Gandiya said Friday he hoped the Archbishop’s service would comfort Anglicans, who he said feel persecuted. He said he hoped Anglicans would not be too fearful to attend. He said the bishops from the four Zimbabwe diocese would attend the service.

Kunonga said he is a strong supporter of Mugabe, who he has described as a “prophet of god.”

He was given a white-owned farm by Mugabe in 2002.

Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court says it is considering Bishop Gandiya’s application for return of Anglican properties to the Church of the Province of Central Africa.

In an interim ruling two months ago, the court said Kunonga can continue to occupy and control those properties.