Expresses hope that ceasefire can promote efforts to achieve a lasting peace in the east.
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Addressing hundreds of crowds gathered in St. Peter’ square for the Angelus Sunday September 7, Pope Francis has made two passionate pleas for peace in Lesotho and Ukraine.
Referring to Lesotho, Pope Francis said, “I join my voice to that of the Bishops of Lesotho, who have appealed for peace in that country. I condemn all acts of violence and ask that the Lord will restore to the Kingdom of Lesotho peace that is (rooted) in justice and fraternity.”
On Thursday, the Lesotho Times reported that the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference (LCBC) had called for peaceful dialogue between the country’s feuding parties and also urged the international community to ensure that stability returns to the troubled kingdom.
Addressing a media conference in the capital, Maseru, Lesotho’s Bishop Augustinus Tumaole Bane, the Bishop of Leribe, spoke on behalf of his brother bishops and urged political parties in government as well as the security agencies to resolve their differences without resorting to violence, emphasizing the need to exercise “restraint” in their actions.
Lesotho is a small Southern African mountain kingdom of just 2 million people. It is completely surrounded by South Africa. It gained independence from Britain in 1966.
The recent troubles in Lesotho started on August 30, when the country’s prime minister, Thomas Thabane, escaped across the border into South Africa saying he feared for his life. In the early hours of that Saturday, the Lesotho military seized control of the kingdom’s central police station and jammed radio stations and phones. Some shots were fired, and one person was killed in the clashes. AFP reported then that the military denied trying to stage a coup. They insisted that they raided police offices to get weapons they believed would have been given to “political fanatics.”
Thabane returned to Maseru on Tuesday after South African President Jacob Zuma and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervened. Zuma, who chairs SADC’s 15-member countries’ Organ on Politics and Defense convened an urgent meeting in Pretoria. After the meeting ended, SADC ordered Thabane to return to Lesotho while the regional group pledged immediate peaceful intervention and support.
Before all the dramatic events of the last two weeks, Lesotho was already in a tense atmosphere which culminated in Thabane asking the army chief, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, to step down and relinquish command. According to Agence-France Presse, within hours of that order, the military attacked police stations, and Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, Kamoli’s successor appointed by the prime minister, was the target of an attempted assassination. He too fled Lesotho.
Pope Francis’ appeal coincides with new information coming out of Lesotho that the renegade Tlali Kamoli, who has refused to step down as the commander of Lesotho’s military, has taken control of Lesotho’s state armories and may be preparing for a stand-off, a violent confrontation or even civil war.
Lesotho’s military is said to be loyal to Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing, who leads the Lesotho Congress for Democracy Party, a partner in Lesotho’s coalition government. The police are instead widely regarded as close to the embattled prime minister, Thabane.
When things came to a head, national police commissioner Khothatso T’soana is said to have been investigating corruption charges involving the deputy prime minister, Metsing. The latter believes the investigation is a political witch-hunt by the country’s police. As a result, Metsing is said to have declared that he could not be arrested because he was protected by the military.
In June this year, Thabane managed to convince Lesotho’s King Letsie III to shut down parliament when he learned that the opposition led by his deputy, Metsing planned to bring up a vote of no confidence against him.
Political observers are weary of the military’s involvement in Lesotho’s political affairs. They think this is a great source of destabilization and a recipe for civil strife. Similarly, they urge Lesotho’s politicians to learn to respect state institutions and not manipulate them for narrow personal and political interests.
At the recent media conference, the bishops of Lesotho lamented the current state of anarchy and lawlessness resulting from the shutting down of police services, the judiciary and other public services. The bishops have called for calm. “We call upon all the parties to respect their commitment to work together to restore security and political stability in the kingdom.”
It is hoped that Pope Francis’s appeal and that of the bishops of Lesotho will find a listening ear among Lesotho’s politicians and security agencies. In the words of the bishops, “lasting peace is still possible, only if justice is done to the legitimate concerns and expectations of all the parties involved.
In his reflection during the Angelus address, Francis spoke of fraternal correction, as it is presented by St. Matthew in the day’s Gospel reading.
“Jesus teaches us that if my Christian brother wrongs me or offends me, I must be charitable towards him and, first of all, speak to him personally, explaining that what he has said or done is not good," the Pope said, according to Vatican Information Service. "And what if my brother does not listen to me? Jesus suggests a way of intervening gradually: first, to speak to him again with another two or three people, so that he is more aware of the mistake he has made. If, in spite of this, he does not accept this exhortation, it is necessary to tell the community, and if he does not even listen to the community, then we have to let him know of the fracture and detachment that he himself has caused, by failing in communion with his brothers and sisters in the faith.”
“The steps in this itinerary show the strength that the Lord asks of the community to support those who err, so that they are not lost," the Pontiff continued. "Above all it is necessary to avoid the clamor of news and gossip in the community. The attitude must be that of gentleness, prudence, humility and care in relation to those who have erred, avoiding words that may harm or kill our brother. Because even words can kill. When I gossip or when I unjustly criticize, when I curse a brother with my tongue, this means destroying the reputation of the other person. … At the same time, this discretion in speaking to him alone has the aim of not pointlessly mortifying the sinner. … In view of this need, we can understand the following series of interventions, which include the involvement of other witnesses and finally even the community. The aim is to help the person to understand what they have done, and to be aware that they have thereby offended not just one person, but everyone. But it also helps us to rid ourselves of anger and resentment … that bitterness of the heart that leads to anger and resentment leads us to insult and offend. It is very unpleasant to see insults and aggression from a Christian. … To insult is not Christian”.
“In reality”, he continued, “before the Lord we are all sinners and all in need of forgiveness. All of us. Indeed, Jesus told us not to judge. Fraternal correction is an aspect of the love and the communion that should reign in the Christian community; it is a mutual service that we can and must render to each other … and it is possible and effective only if each person recognizes himself as a sinner and in need of the Lord’s forgiveness. The same awareness that enables me to recognize the errors of the other, first of all reminds me that I myself have made, and make mistakes, many times”.
“Therefore, at the beginning of Mass, we are invited each time to acknowledge ourselves as sinners before the Lord, expressing with words and gestures the sincere repentance of the heart,” he concluded. “And Jesus Himself invites all of us, saints and sinners, to his table, bringing us together at the various crossroads in in the different situations of our lives. And among the conditions that unite all the participants in the Eucharistic celebration, two are fundamental: we are all sinners, and God offers His mercy to us all.”