A pastor in Madagascar is said to have died after being shot by a stray bullet during a politically charged gun battle in the country's capital Antananarivo - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
Church sources in Antananarivo said that Pastor Ranaivo Rivoarison who was shot at, died in the early hours of 21 May 2010. The London-based international agency The Council for World Mission quoted a church member as saying: "He and his wife were walking on the road near the army barracks where the gun battle erupted and the bullet caught him from the back."
Rivoarison belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM). His wife, Pastor Rasoanaivo Rina, is the head of the FJKM women's group known as Dorkasy.
The president of the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Rev Clifton Kirkpatrick and the grouping's General Secretary, the Rev Setri Nyomi, said on 21 May: "We have read with horror of the new outbreaks of violence in Madagascar and are particularly concerned that Pastor Rivo was shot by the security forces as he was sharing in a prayer service earlier today."
The WARC leaders also declared: "We are also concerned to hear of reports that plans may be circulating to arrest a number of pastors and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM). We totally condemn such actions and hope and pray that those who consider such actions will refrain from such a blatant injustice that will only work against peace and justice for the people of Madagascar."
The General Secretary of the Council for World Mission, the Rev Des van der Water, was in Madagascar to show support for its member church the FJKM and he was joined by the General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, the Rev Jerry Pillay.
The Rev Fred Nyabera, the executive director of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa, told ENInews from Nairobi: "There needs to be sobriety in Madagascar. The role of the government forces is to protect the citizens, not victimise them. The problem in Madagascar should not be seen through a sectarian view. Not all people are involved actively in fanning the crisis."
Responding to reports of a clampdown on worshippers and clerics, he said, "It is very unfortunate the military intends to carry out indiscriminate arrests of the clergy. Arresting the pastors will only bring more tensions. We call for restraint at this time."
He added: "The violence in Madagascar shows that there is fragmentation in the core of society. There are Christians in the country who are not involved in the current politics of the country. That's why as a global family of Christians, we need to pray for a lasting solution to the conflict."
Madagascar, an island nation located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, has been tense since March when, following weeks of protests, the president, Marc Ravalomanana, was ousted by Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of Antananarivo.
About 2.5 million of Madagascar's 21 million people belong to the FJKM, making it the country's biggest Protestant denomination. Some political commentators said that during Ravalomanana's time in office the lines between Church and State had been blurred.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]