The Catholic community of the African island nation of Zanzibar ruled by Tanzania is in shock over the murder of Fr. Evarist Mushi, a Catholic priest, by gunmen on February 17. Based on a police report, confirmed by Bishop Augustine Ndeliakyama Shao, that the priest was shot dead while parking his car outside St Joseph’s parish church. It was 7:00 a.m and the priest was headed to celebrate the first Sunday mass of Lent in his parish. The gunmen were apparently waiting for him and fled the scene on a motorbike.
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According to Tanzania’s The Guardian newspaper, police have already arrested three suspects in connection to the murder, while their motives remain unreported. motive.
The late Fr Mushi worked for years in helping AIDS sufferers, as well as in opening up dialogue with Muslims. “The majority of Muslims wants peace and dialogue, but in the past two years extremist groups appear to have gained strength, according to the government stemming from funding from abroad”, explained Bishop Shao.
One of the extremist groups is Uamasho, “reawakening” in Swahili, a group formed in 2001 that seeks full autonomy of the archipelago from Tanzania.
This was the not the first attack on Catholic clerics in Zanzibar. On Christmas Day, 2012, gunmen opened fire on Fr. Ambrose Mkenda, injuring him. The archipelago is a semi-autonomous part of Tazania. Since last year, Tanzania and Zanzibar have experienced unrest since the arrest of Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, a leader of an extremist Islamist group.
The Fides news service reported that local Catholic bishops and priests recently received text messages in which Islamists took credit for the murder of Fr. Mushi. "We thank our young men, trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished: at Easter, be prepared for disaster"; Signed "Muslim Renewal," read the text.
The Christian community in Tanzania is anxious about the uptick in violence. The Tanzanian prime minister called for an immediate meeting with leading members of the Christian and Muslim communities, for example, but the outcome was not positive. Muslim leaders called for the release from prison of the suspected assassins of Protestant pastor Mathew Kachira, killed on February 10. Local Catholic Church sources believe that these attacks and murders are clearly the work of Islamist extremism spreading throughout Tanzania and to Zanzibar.
Last week, Muslim migrants drowned Christian migrants while crossing the Mediterranean. Pope Francis is appealing for more EU involvement with migrants washing ashore in Italy.
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