Thousands of pilgrims from Zimbabwe and beyond are expected to gather in Harare next week to commemorate the life of Bernard Mizeki, a lay African catechist and missionary martyred in 1896. The celebrations, scheduled for June 14-16, will be the first held at the martyr’s shrine in more than five years. In recent years Anglican pilgrims were barred from the site by excommunicated former bishop Nolbert Kunonga.
The Rt. Rev. Chad Gandiya, Bishop of Harare, told ACNS: “After having been in exile for five years and failing to host these celebrations at the shrine, this years’ celebrations are indeed special and the theme God is faithful could not be more timely.
“This time we are back at our churches, and all other church properties including the shrine are back in our hands,” he said. “Going by last year’s numbers, which were estimated at over 10,000 people, we do not expect anything less this year.”
Last year Kunonga, with backing from the police, stopped members of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) from worshiping at the shrine. Pilgrims instead celebrated the event at the Marondera Showgrounds, an area located about 11 kilometers from the shrine.
The Most Rev. Albert Chama, primate of the CPCA and Bishop of Northern Zambia, said he was grateful to God that the festival will be held at the shrine.
He explained the relevance of the event to Christians in Africa and how they can learn from a life guided by Mizeki. “Christians should know that the route they have chosen is not without challenges or hurdles,” he said. “Christianity is about actions, some of which can lead to death. All pilgrims should remember that death in Christ is in fact a gain.
“The event itself shows the importance of Christianity among Africans,” the archbishop said. “Bernard Mizeki was an African who was martyred for propagating the Good News to fellow Africans at a time when they did not understand the Christian faith.”
Bishop Gandiya said Mizeki’s life was one of deep commitment to God and his people. “Even after being warned, he decided to preserve the lives of others at the expense of his own.”
“As a shepherd, you don’t desert people that have been put under your care,” the bishop said. “Having been in exile for a long time, we understand and find a lot of relevance and comfort from his life.
“This is the first time that we won’t be looking over our shoulders as we celebrate this special day.”
Bellah Zulu, ACNS
Image from The Bridge, Diocese of Southwark