By Bellah Zulu, ACNS
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, between 14 – 16 June, will be the first ones held at the martyr’s shrine in more than five years. Previously Anglican pilgrims had been barred from the site by excommunicated former bishop Nolbert Kunonga.
Bishop of Harare the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya 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 Dr. Kunonga, with backing from the police, stopped members of the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) from worshipping at the shrine. Pilgrims instead went ahead and celebrated the event at the Marondera show grounds, an area located about 11 kilometers from the shrine.
Commenting on this year’s event, Primate of CPCA and Bishop of Northern Zambia the Most Revd Albert Chama said he was grateful to God that the festival will be held at the shrine.
He also explained the relevance of the event to Christians in Africa and how they can learn from a life guided by Bernard Mizeki. “[African] 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,” said the Archbishop. “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 Bernard Mizeki’s life had been 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.”
Bishop Gandiya also revealed that the preparations for the celebrations are in the final stages and that they are ready and happy to host the event freely for the first time in more than five years.
He concluded, “This is the first time that we won’t be looking over our shoulders as we celebrate this special day.”