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THE first attempted assassination of Pope John Paul 11 in 1981, in st. Peter's Square at Vatican City sent shock waves around the world's Christian community which triggered an increase in the number of personal bodyguards surrounding the Pontiff.

In Zimbabwe, we have witnessed our charismatic preachers and young modern-day prophets taking a leaf from the Pontiff as they are surrounded by dozens of personal bodyguards.

United Family International Church (UFIC) leader Emmanuel Makandiwa, Walter Magaya of Prophetic and Healing Deliverance church and Spirit Embassy founder Uebert Mudzanire Angel are always surrounded by heavily-built personal bodyguards as they battle for supremacy.

Their bodyguards are, however, notorious for blocking worshippers from getting closer to the men of God.

The three prophets are famous, having hogged the limelight over their spiritual powers that include miraculous prosperity, mysterious cash deposits into members' bank accounts, a baby conceived and born within three days and instant weight loss.

But what kind of threats are our Zimbabwean preachers facing, because by nature, their mission is supposed to be saving our souls?

While the Pope's team of bodyguards are professionals from registered security institutions like the Swiss Guards and Vatican Police Force, local church body guards have been criticised for behaving like bouncers and thugs.

Controversy has brewed over local prophets' need for protection, with people questioning if the "men of cloth" really need these overzealous bodyguards around them.

And is it not the man of God who said in the holy bible (Psalm 23): "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

Religious commentators have attributed today's type of gospel preached by certain preachers as necessitating protection.

"If a pastor uses preaching as a cover up to extort money and valuables from people under the guise of selling morale oils, hand charms or magic portraits, then such preachers require body guards to protect them from angry victims," Bishop Noah Pashapa said.

Pashapa said there was no need for preachers to live the same lives lived by politicians.

"If a preacher desires to project and sustain a myth of high level importance and invincibility in the minds of gullible religious people, then body guards become a necessary trapping.

"If he or she regards Jesus Christ as a role model in transformational servant leadership, then there is no need to imitate politicians and rich influential people in generating such a myth."

The bishop said if a preacher's message and mission becomes more of a political or business venture, then they will require body guards for protection from ruthless competitors.

"If a preacher uses sorcery and witchcraft to generate popularity and miraculous powers, they will require bodyguards to protect them from attackers or assassins hired by their competition.

"True servants of Jesus Christ like Richmond Chiundiza and Ricky Decker have no need for body guards because their message and mission is uncorrupted by entrepreneurial or political interests," said Pashapa.

However, some critics have argued that Jesus had bodyguards in the form of the 12 disciples taken from the time he had to chide them from barring little children to come to him. Another example cited was when Peter drew the sword and cut off the high priest's servant's ear on the pretext of protecting Jesus.

Mathew 19 verse 13 -14 says: "Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them."

But how tough should the guards be and to what extent should they go to protect their boss?

One of the Pope's former bodyguards retired Swiss Guard Captain Roman Fringeli in a memoir states that he found security in Africa too tough.

He writes that on John Paul II's 1995 trip to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, he remembers seeing a mentally unstable man who had wandered in front of the Pope's mobile being thrown to the ground "like a sack of potatoes" and being hurled into the crowd.

Fringeli called it "terrible" and "a scandal".

Recently Prophetic and Healing Deliverance (PHD) Ministries founder Prophet Walter Magaya pronounced that he was going to beef up his security.

This year his three personal guards were being investigated by Marondera police after they allegedly assaulted a resident accusing him of failing to respect Magaya's motorcade.

PHD Ministries' spokesperson Oscar Pambuka confirmed the incident to the media, saying three men were being interviewed over the matter.

Magaya's bodyguards were also in the news after they reportedly assaulted pole dance Beverley Sibanda who had joined the church.

Last year, Makandiwa's security personnel reportedly briefly confiscated a news photographer's camera during a Harare visit by the prophet's spiritual father Ghanaian Victor Kusi Boateng. They deleted some pictures he had taken of the official opening of the church's international convention conference and demanded accreditation documents from journalists covering the event.

A 40-year-old Chitungwiza spirit medium Lovemore Chiponda filed a report at Zengeza Police Station after he was reportedly dragged out of Makandiwa's UFIC and beaten by guards last year.

Chiponda claims he was taken to a guard room at the UFIC and was beaten up with button sticks by seven bouncers after he spoke in foreign tongues during a church service

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