In her contribution on the pastoral letter by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, Gladys Ganiel asks ‘But who listens to the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference? Who reads their letters? Do their ideas filter down to Catholics in the parishes and other people of goodwill?

These are very pivotal questions that needs deep reflection and action beyond simply recommending that people share their reading of the pastoral letter with others.

While the recommendation to discuss the readings is welcome, more needs to be done if the church is to contribute meaningfully and tangibly to the process of national healing and reconciliation. Reconciliation is not just a theoretical process but one that makes sense only if put into practice.

Reconciliation is not about dealing with abstract concepts with no practical application but one that deals with people’s lives. Pastoral letters are meaningful and a good step in the process because they articulate the thought base of the process, but communities need more. Two challenges exist:

1. Whether communities receive the pastoral letters
2. Whether communities understand the pastoral letters

Fortunately, the pastoral letters are in the vernacular languages. And it is encouraging that some courageous priests read out the pastoral letters on Sundays. But Chakupete (2010) argues that pastoral statements have been made by the church leaders, with no meaningful follow up to both the citizens (communion of faithful) and the politicians. Theological pastoral letters can only be meaningful if they are translated into practice.

Efforts such as those taken by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace –Harare with the Tree of Life programme are welcome but possibly a drop in the ocean. A spirited and vibrant approach needs to be undertaken throughout the country if Zimbabwe is to achieve holistic reconciliation.

It has to be remembered that the dynamics of reconciliation– developing a mutual conciliatory accommodation between antagonistic or formerly antagonistic persons or groups (Hayner 2002) — and working towards truth, justice, mercy and peace, are no trivial matters.

Zimbabwe does not need a mere ‘armistice’ for a few months. Rather:

It needs comprehensive and honest national healing and reconciliation in which perpetrators of violence are made accountable and society is reconciled so as to bury the culture of violence that left the society terribly traumatised and deeply polarised (Gatsheni 2008).

It needs a holistic approach to reconciliation that includes political and structural reconstruction, societal, personal and interpersonal reconciliation.

It needs an approach that includes everyone and should be owned by all stakeholders and should not be the preserve of only a few.

Many communities have developed and still maintain a frightening negative psychological repertoire. People do not trust one another and fear those they have been taught are their enemies. In such circumstances the concept of national healing and reconciliation is a dangerous political issue just like elections, to be discussed at one’s own peril.

What an intriguing dissonance. True, reconciliation is a political issue in some sense but it has to be worked towards in order for the concept to be purified. If the concept of reconciliation becomes dangerous then what shall be safe? This simply demonstrates the gulf that still exists between the ‘grassroots’ communities and the top leadership in the country, politically and religiously.

My experience in Zimbabwe showed me that the pastoral letters make good decorations at the receptions of Catholic institutions and ‘sister institutions’. They will be nicely packed among the many other magazines and pamphlets that entertain the visitors as they wait for their host.

My recommendation is that the pastoral letters need to be deconstructed. How might this be done?

  • Strategically positioned organisations such as Silveira House, African Form for Catholic and Social Teaching and Catholic Commission for Justice and peace, just to mention but a few, can take up this task of deconstructing the pastoral letters, which are always well written but inaccessible to the majority of Zimbabweans.

  • A task force from these organisations and other interested parties from the academia could be set up to specifically spearhead a nationwide campaign of national healing and reconciliation, informed by the social teaching of the church. This Commission should be composed of clergy, religious and lay people.

  • Parishes need to enliven their justice and peace structures to allow discussion of the reconciliation process. The various guilds need to take time during their meetings to discuss the pastoral letters with interpretive assistance from priests and religious. This is assuming that the clergy and religious are well equipped not only about the pastoral letters but also the concept of reconciliation.

The churches need to put in a spirited effort in addressing reconciliation. It is not enough to call for reconciliation, in the absence of commitment from politicians the churches and others in civil society need to devise reconciliation mechanisms themselves.

Joram Tarusarira is a PhD student at the University of Leipzig (Germany)