Roman Catholics in Zimbabwe will remember Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa, who died at St Anne's Hospital in Harare on April 8 after a long battle with cancer, with a mixture of love and sorrow.

The first black Archbishop of Rhodesia, Chakaipa was a close friend of Robert Mugabe. This controversial relationship was a source of considerable embarrassment to the church both at home and abroad. The archbishop invited criticism when he refused to allow the Catholic Church's commissioners for justice and peace to publish a devastating report, which revealed the full horror of the North Korean trained Zimbabwe National Army's atrocities in Matabeleland between 1982 and 1987.

The government now admits to 10,000 civilian deaths. Some Catholics say many more died, possibly five times that figure. The report was eventually released, but never with

the blessing of the Catholic hierarchy, which, basically, did not want to embarrass or anger Mugabe. The archbishop was also roundly condemned for the fact that, years later in 1996, he lobbied the Pope so that his friend Mugabe could marry a State House security worker called Grace Marufu who was at the time of her notorious affair with the president married with children to a Zimbabwean Air Force officer.

Patrick Chakaipa's warm relationship with Robert Mugabe was ideal for the latter, but Catholics both in Zimbabwe and Britain say it has cost the Church dearly.

Born in Mhondoro in Rhodesia in June 1932, he spent almost 38 years of his life as a priest and just over 30 of them as a bishop, later archbishop of a country once called Rhodesia but now generally referred to as ''Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe''.

From peasant stock, Patrick Chakaipa was ordained as a priest in 1965. Seven years later he was appointed auxiliary bishop for the diocese of Salisbury, and in 1976 was enthroned as the first black Archbishop of Rhodesia following the resignation that year of Francis William Markall SJ.

For historic reasons, Catholics have been the loudest and most influential voice of Christianity in Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe. When Sir Alec Douglas Home and Rhodesian leader Ian Smith worked out a plan to restore legality to Rhodesia in 1971, Patrick Chakaipa was one of the many local dignitaries who said ''no'' because it gave too much power to a small group of wealthy Europeans who hoped to perpetuate racism in Africa.

At synods and Christian gatherings, the voice of Patrick Chakaipa was loud and clear. ''The Church,'' he said in Rome in 1994, ''can only promote justice if it makes all efforts to avoid injustice within the Church itself.''

When he died on April 8, hundreds of thousands of Catholics walked slowly around his coffin, which was later taken to the citadel of Catholicism in Zimbabwe, the mission at Chishawasha.

At the start of the twentieth century, many Catholic blacks regarded the Catholic Church as a lighthouse of hope.

Many of the country's future leaders - including the Jesuit-educated Robert Mugabe - sat still and silent as they took in the words of Christ, only to throw them out of windows at the nearest ruling party headquarters when they came to power.

Those who know Zimbabwe well say that it is no coincidence that the strongest Easter Pastoral Letter from the

Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference since independence was issued to priests only a

few days after the archbishop's death. In it, the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe accused Robert Mugabe of having ''failed to

provide leadership that enables the creation of an environment that enhances truth, justice, love, and freedom''.

With its release, President Mugabe has finally lost the vital support of the Zimbabwe Roman Catholic Church.

The pastoral letter condemned what it called the ''frightening corruption, lawlessness, and abuse of power of the government''.

It also expressed outrage at the regime's practice of demanding that people in famine relief queues produce a ruling-party card before they are allowed to receive food. ''People's lives are at stake and the nation cannot afford to entertain the politicisation of food while people are starving.''

This weekend, Zimbabwe celebrates 23 years of Mugabe power aka as Independence.

Publication of the pastoral letter coincides with a wish by Robert Mugabe that his old friend Patrick Chakaipa be buried at Heroes' Acre on the edge of Harare, an honour normally reserved for Mugabe sycophants and ruling-party cronies.

Mugabe's wish underlines, if needs be, once again the closeness of the two men.

If his wish becomes the Church's command it will embarrass Catholics who are now attempting to undo years of Church-State cosiness in order to identify fully with the spiritual and material needs of millions of starving people.

Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa; born June 25, 1932, died April 8, 2003.