More people turned up to watch a soccer match Sunday in Harare than went to listen to President Robert Mugabe address Zimbabwe's first National Day Of Prayer in which he played a central role. Although some free transport was provided and the stadium was easily accessible, less than 5,000 people turned up to the well-advertised, but controversial, event.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe called for unity Sunday at an event that was sparked by his invitation last month to certain churchmen to enter into a dialogue with him.

Mr. Mugabe, a Catholic, called for divine intervention to turn the country around so it could become, as he described it, "the jewel among nations".

Zimbabwe is in a crippling economic crisis with inflation at nearly 1,200 percent, the highest in the world, unemployment of 80 percent and no foreign currency for essential imports.

Most of Zimbabwe's best-known senior churchmen did not attend the day of prayer presided over by Mr. Mugabe. Neither of Zimbabwe's two Catholic archbishops were there.

At the prayer day, Mr. Mugabe criticized Bulawayo Archbishop Pius Ncube, an outspoken critic of the Zanu-PF government.

Mr. Mugabe said that being a bishop does not make one a saint and that a bishop is not dearer to God than the president.

"When the church leaders start being political we regard them as political creatures and we are vicious in that area," Mr. Mugabe warned.

Mr. Mugabe's relationship with the Catholic Church has been strained since government soldiers massacred thousands of people in southern Zimbabwe in the 1980s.

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches hailed the National Day Of Prayer as a success.

Former information minister Jonathan Moyo said the prayer day had been a failure as so few people turned up. He said that Mr. Mugabe had long wanted to involve the churches in his political plans and that this effort would continue.