The former president is a Catholic, and he attended Catholic schools; much of his childhood formation was done in the church. When his father abandoned the family, a priest took the young Mr. Mugabe under his wing.
He attended Mass regularly at Harare’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. More recently, Mr. Mugabe has been going to the Redemptorist parish closest to his luxurious house in Borrowdale, Harare. He raised eyebrows when he attended the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II in April 2005.
“He is a serious Catholic, more serious than what most people think,” Father Mukonori insists. “He says his rosary every day; even during the war. He would travel with his rosary in his pocket, which was given to him by his mother.”
He explains that when Mr. Mugabe was sent by the liberation party to Mozambique as an exile, his mother told him that all she could give him for protection was God, so she gave him her rosary, which he used for the entire period that he was away.
Father Mukonori often visited Mr. Mugabe’s family; he was especially close to Mr. Mugabe’s mother, Bona, when the young Robert was in exile. He explains how angry and upset Mr. Mugabe’s mother got when in 1977-79 the then Rhodesian Herald (today the Zimbabwe Herald) published pieces saying that anyone who killed Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, leader of the Zimbabwe African People's Union, would receive $50,000 each as a reward.
Mugabe “is a serious Catholic, more serious than what most people think,” Father Mukonori insists.
“‘Why do they want to kill my son?’ she would ask me when I saw her,” Father Mukonori says.
The Zimbabwe War of Independence (1964-1979) was being fought during the tenure of the 28th General of the Society of Jesus, Father Pedro Arrupe (1965-1983). Father Arrupe had a profound commitment to justice that, he insisted, should permeate Jesuit ministry.
Father Arrupe’s vision contributed much to Decree 4 of the Society of Jesus’ 32nd General Congregation—titled “Our Mission Today: The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice.” This was an important document for the Society of Jesus and gave new focus to the work of Jesuits globally. It emphasized that the service of faith was primary to the whole apostolate of the society and stressed that justice was an absolute requirement of that service.
Father Mukonori played a key role in the country’s liberation war because he believed that justice needed to be done for the African people who had been colonized and degraded by Europeans on their own land. He has worked for many years with the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission in Zimbabwe.
“Brother Fidelis,” as he was known (Father Mukonori entered the Society in 1971, initially to be a brother, and was only ordained later on in 1991), managed to go to places where others could not go. Perhaps Father Mukonori was ahead of his time.
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