The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has described the Bishop of Harare, Sebastian Bakare, as a "deeply respected and courageous leader who has spoken out not only against injustices in his community but also against corruption within his own Anglican church" - writes Trevor Grundy.
The head of the 77-million worldwide Anglican Communion was speaking from Lambeth Palace, London, before the presentation earlier this week to Bishop Bakare in Stockholm of the 2008 Per Anger Award. The award, founded by the Swedish government, has been given to the bishop for his committed work and leadership of an important branch of the Christian community and his battle for human rights in Zimbabwe.
Said Williams: "His continued integrity, for which he has placed himself at considerable personal risk, has brought hope to countless people in Zimbabwe and internationally."
The Living History Forum in Stockholm has been commissioned since 2004 by the Swedish government to award the prize in the spirit of ambassador Per Anger who, during the Second World War, took the initiative to write a series of protection letters which saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Budapest.
"Bishop Sebastian Bakare is awarded the 2008 Per Anger Prize for having given voice to the fight against oppression and for the freedom of speech and of opinion in a difficult political situation, with courage and personal sacrifice," the press officer of the history forum, Johan Perwe, told Ecumenical News International. "As bishop of the Anglican church in Zimbabwe, Sebastian Bakare has for many years fought for the situation and rights in society of vulnerable people."
Bakare in 2007 replaced Nolbert Kunonga, a strong supporter of Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party which until 2008 ruled Zimbabwe.
Since then Bakare has denounced Mugabe's treatment of Christians, particularly Anglicans. Many Anglican churches have been shut on the orders of Zanu-PF, which believes it should still rule Zimbabwe despite losing a national election in March.
On 23 July at the Lambeth Conference, which draws Anglican bishops from all over the world, Bishop Bakare told journalists: "The ruling system is so oppressive that it has denied the people their human rights, including religious freedom. My diocese continues to suffer persecution. We have been denied the freedom to worship."
He was referring to the action of riot police preventing Anglicans attending services at Harare's Anglican Cathedral. Bakare recounted the details of how Anglicans had been forcefully hauled from the communion rail by members of Zanu-PF's youth wing, who are known in Zimbabwe as the Green Bombers.
[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.]