boycotted by many. More people reportedly turned up to watch a soccer match Sunday, June 26, in Harare than went to listen to Mugabe's address, amid growing concerns he is splitting Christian churches, pitting pastor against pastor.
Mugabe, a Catholic, called for "divine intervention" to turn the country around so it could become "the jewel among nations". Zimbabwe is in a crippling economic crisis with inflation at nearly 1,200 percent, the highest in the world, unemployment of 80 percent and no foreign currency for essential imports, analysts say.
However most of Zimbabwe's best-known senior churchmen did not attend the day of prayer presided over by Mugabe, including the country's two Catholic archbishops who still recall a massacre for which they hold the president responsible.
Mugabe's most vocal and dangerous religious opponent is "the massively courageous Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo" Pius Ncube, commented zimbabwejournalists.com, an alternative website fighting for democracy in the troubled country. He was quoted as saying that Mugabe is an "evil" man, and he prays "that the Good Lord will take Mugabe away from us".
Archbishop Ncube holds Mugabe personally responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women and children at the hands of the Zimbabwe Army's North Korea-trained Fifth Brigade during the "anti-dissident" campaign of the mid-1980s.
Ncube also lambasted Mugabe's government for destroying hundreds of thousands of shanty town dwellings in last year's nationwide Operation Murambatsvina or Operation Drive Out the Rubbish, that has reportedly left over 700,000 people homeless, including apparently many Christians.
At the prayer day, Mugabe criticized Bulawayo Archbishop Ncube, saying that being a bishop does not make "one a saint and that a bishop is not dearer to God than the president." Mugabe warned that "When the church leaders start being political we regard them as political creatures and we are vicious in that area."
University of Zimbabwe political scientist John Makumbe told reporters that Mugabe had succeeded in driving a wedge between Christian churches. He and other analysts believe part of this strategy is for the government to appear to have the support of the majority of Zimbabwe's Christian churches.
However the Zimbabwe Council of Churches hailed the National Day Of Prayer as a success, the Voice of America (VOA) network reported. Former information minister Jonathan Moyo reportedly said that prayer day had been "a failure" as so few people turned up. He was quoted as saying Mugabe "had long wanted to involve the churches in his political plans and that this effort would continue." (With reports from Zimbabwe).