number 5, december 9, 1998

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Received by the President

Zimbabwe has played host to many important international meetings in recent years, but this one is completely different, President Robert Mugabe told about 150 assembly participants at a state reception on Monday evening.

What marks off this meeting from the earlier ones, said the President during a reception at State House in Harare, is its spiritual dimension.

When the Commonwealth and the Non-Aligned Movement have met in Zimbabwe, the focus has been on political and economic issues. But while these concerns for the physical person are important, Mugabe said the concerns of the church transcend this level and touch the realm of the soul.

A group of assembly participants -- including the WCC officers, members of the outgoing central committee and general secretary Konrad Raiser with some senior staff -- were bused to State House at the end of their afternoon sessions. In a tent in the garden, the President greeted each guest personally.

His 25-minute address, delivered without notes, touched on a variety of topics, including the role of the churches in partnership with government in Zimbabwe today -- especially in the areas of education and health.

Mugabe also expressed gratitude for the WCC’s support, through the Programme to Combat Racism, to Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle in the 1970s, culminating in the country’s independence in 1980.

However, except for one passing mention of striking workers and another brief reference to his talks in Paris last week with other African leaders and French President Jacques Chirac about ending the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a truce will come, Mugabe said, when all parties are on board, but not all are as yet), the President’s address included few specifics regarding the current political and economic situation in the country.

He did remind the participants of the severe toll the HIV/AIDS pandemic is taking among Zimbabweans.

Most of the president’s address was devoted to the importance of developing moral and spiritual values as well as seeing to people’s physical needs. He repeatedly underscored the role of the churches in this effort.

In his response to the president, WCC central committee moderator Aram I, Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Cilicia), agreed with the President that the churches have a key role to play in civil society.

In that sense, he said, they can be partners of government. But, he added, this partnership must never prevent the churches from unhesitatingly proclaiming the central message of justice.

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Read other articles in this issue:

Help create fair world -- Mugabe
Evangelicals liken WCC to a polygamist husband
They work for peace in cities
Churches should defend the voiceless
Received by the President
Human chain to cancel debt
Indian delegates retrace footsteps of St Thomas
Making peace possible
Mugabe's liberty bell cracked

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor