An international children's rights organization on Thursday called on Pope Benedict XVI to travel to Zimbabwe to try to persuade autocratic President Robert Mugabe, a Roman Catholic, to reject violence and uphold democracy, dpa reported.
In an open letter to the pope the Geneva-based International Federation Terre des Hommes called on the pope to put pressure on Mugabe to recognize his country was in crisis and to respect the wishes of his people.
A month after elections in which opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims to have defeated Zimbabwe's leader of 28 years, Mugabe is showing no sign of readiness to step down.
His Zanu-PF party claims neither Tsvangirai nor Mugabe won the presidency outright and is preparing for a runoff. The state-controlled election commission has yet to release the election results but has already undertaken a partial recount.
Meanwhile, youth militia and soldiers loyal to Mugabe have gone on a nationwide rampage, attacking people suspected of supporting the MDC.
Terre des Hommes, which carries out development work in Zimbabwe, referred to a call for international intervention from a coalition of Zimbabwean Christian churches Tuesday in urging Benedict to take action.
In a joint statement the church leaders said people were being kidnapped, tortured, even killed for their political leanings and appealed for Zimbabwe's southern African neighbours, the African Union and the United Nations to intervene.
Pope Benedict has the moral authority to prevent a further escalation of the violence and to convince Mugabe, who was educated in a Catholic mission, to pursue political and social harmony, Terre des Hommes director Peter Mucke said.
The appeal comes amid mounting calls by religious leaders for intervention in Zimbabwe.
On Wednesday, two leading South African clerics called on the United Nations to consider sending troops into Zimbabwe to prevent Kenya-style post-election bloodshed.
After visiting Zimbabwe, Allan Boesak of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa and Braam Hanekom of the Dutch Reformed Church said some of the reports of violence they had received recalled the worst excesses of apartheid-era South Africa.
The All African Conference of Churches also expressed concern over the mounting violence and said it was "saddened" by China's efforts to deliver arms to Zimbabwe.
A Chinese ship has been sailing around southern Africa in search of a port in which to offload 77 tonnes of weapons and ammunition for Zimbabwe but is finding many ports in the region closed to its controversial cargo.