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Building for Peace

 

Building for Peace
 
A Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishops of Zambia in view of th 1996 Elections

 

 
27 October 1996

 

 

 

 

Just before the elections took place in 1996, the Bishops wrote this pastoral letter to remind the citizens of the importance of elections. They recalled the issues they raised in the "Joint Pastoral statement On the "Year of Political Responsibility"

"Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called Children of God" (Mt 5:9)

To all Catholics and all loving people of Zambia: We wish you the grace and peace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. As pastors of the Church and therefore teachers in matters of morals and doctrine, we feel duty bound to give guidance to the Nation as the National elections draw near. We have listened to the concerns of the people and their desire to see democracy and good governance succeed.

    Just five years ago, The Zambian people received a great grace from God. This grace was the peaceful transition to multiparty democracy after free elections. This was not the grace of the triumph of one party over another, or the replacement of one leader by another. No, it was the grace of the triumph of the Zambian people who with God's help demonstrated a mature and dedicated commitment to democratic Government.
  1. Now, five years later, our Nation moves towards another election to choose leaders for the future. We Catholic Bishops are deeply concerned with the current mood in the Country and the attitude of many of our citizens. During a process of wide consultation across the Country, we have heard people express fear about possible violence during the elections, apathy about the usefulness of voting, and questions about the honesty of the electoral process. We directed the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) to conduct non-partisan civic education programmes throughout Zambia. During these sessions, people have made known their concerns and have asked for guidance from the Church.
  2. So we write this letter to all Catholics and people of Zambia, mindful of the importance of maintaining and strengthening democratic structures and attitudes if we are to enjoy a peaceful and developing future in our Country. We recall at the outset the strong emphasis given in the Church's social teaching about values of democracy. As Pope John Paul II, in one of his encyclicals, has said, "The Church values the democratic system in as much as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate ...Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by (just) law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person". (John Paul II, One Hundred Years, 1991, #46)
  3. In the joint Pastoral Statement issued on 15 October 1995 by the Christian Council of Zambia, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia and the Zambia Episcopal Conference, we called upon all Christians to mark a "Year of Political Responsibility" leading up to the National elections. Many Churches have responded to the invitation of the statement: "In a strictly non-partisan fashion, the Churches should assist the people to critically examine the institutions, attitudes, programmes and practices of all political parties, in an effort to improve on what we have achieved since 1991" (14) We encourage Christians to review that Statement and the teaching it presents about the responsibility of all leaders and citizens to serve the good of the whole Nation.
  4. In this Pastoral Letter, we want to address three very important points from the perspective of the Bible and the social teaching of the Church. We speak on these points as religious leaders of communities striving to be faithful to the love and justice of Jesus Christ.

    What Constitutes Peaceful, Free, and Fair Elections

  5. To have peaceful, free and fair elections, certain conditions have to prevail in our Country and in our hearts. There ought to be a conducive atmosphere. The major players have to agree on the conditions under which these elections would be held. The contestants have to conduct themselves in a manner that does not put others at an unfair disadvantage. There ought to be transparency in the organisation of the elections.
  6. We therefore urge all Christians to ensure that political parties keep to pertinent issues, for example, service to the poor, social welfare, agricultural policy or economic recovery, during their campaign. Those who campaign outside these issues - people only interested in insulting their opponents - are not promoting peaceful elections, and should not be voted for. Christians should demand that all political parties publicly denounce violence of any sort. Constructive dialogue should be encouraged at all times on key electoral issues, such as the constitution, the electoral act and voter registration. All parties should have equal access to the publicly owned media, and the media have a duty to report political campaigns fairly and accurately.
  7. In the light of these necessary conditions, we make a special appeal to the Government and to the ruling party to realise that they have a serious responsibility. As facilitators of the election, they should ensure that the concerns of all key players are adequately addressed. We also make an appeal to the opposition parties, about the need for them to be open and constructive in participating in the electoral process and in addressing the issues above.

    Criteria For Choosing Good Leaders

  8. Good elections require intelligent and responsible participation by all voters. We therefore encourage all Christians to get themselves informed of the manifestos from various political parties. These manifestos are supposed to have the programme of action that the parties propose to follow in order to serve the good of all people. A sound manifesto should articulate achievable programmes that will enhance the development of our Country and our own well-being. Hence we should be able to decide to vote for the party that has a programme we see as the best for us as a Nation.
  9. The candidates for political parties will be committed to the manifesto of their party as well as to their personal vision of their constituencies. Candidates should therefore be evaluated on their capacity to implement both their party's manifesto and their personal vision. Those who offer themselves for re-election ought to be evaluated against the record of what they have or have not achieved. We should carefully ask ourselves how they performed while they were in office. Did they fulfil their promises? Did they offer quality service to all the people and not only those who voted them into power? Were they available to listen to the concerns of the people and were they selfless in responding to the needs of all, especially of the poor? Those who have not yet held office should be carefully evaluated in terms of their competence and their reputation for honesty and selfless dedication to the common good.
  10. Drawing from the Social Teaching of the Church, the qualities that candidates for political office should have are the following: professional competence, courage to speak out the truth, concern for social justice, desire to work for the common good instead of self enrichment, disposition to use power for service, especially service of the poor and under-privileged, openness to dialogue, good moral standing, transparency and accountability to the electorate. Above all, Christians should realise that they have the moral responsibility to vote for candidates who follow the example of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve (Jn 13: 2-17) and who emptied himself for the good of every one (Philippians 2:5-11).

    The Role of the Church In Strengthening Democracy

  11. As a Church, we are always conscious of our role in society. We know that we must always endeavour to play our role of being the conscience of the nation. In fulfilling this role, we must strive to ensure that the gospel values of love, reconciliation, tolerance, social justice, fairness, the common good, equality and above all special concern for the poor are promoted in our political and economic life. This is why we always feel compelled to speak out and encourage leaders of whatever party and all citizens to commit themselves wholeheartedly to these values.
  12. Civic education is one exercise in which we can play an active role to promote gospel values as the basis for political life. In matters relating to the elections and the promotion of democracy, we urge all Catholics to acquaint themselves with, and make full use, of the non-partisan civic education material prepared by the CCJP.

    Final Appeal

  13. It is important for all Zambians to realise that voting is one of their fundamental human rights. Indeed voting is a Christian duty. It is the means by which citizens can peacefully and freely choose their leaders.
  14. We pray that all citizens enter the elections with a spirit of honesty- avoiding bribes and/or cheating. We also pray that all voters may have, at heart, the sprit to build for peace and reconciliation avoiding all forms of violence. As St. Paul writes to the Romans: "Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody" (Rm 12:18).

May God bless you all!

The Catholic Bishops of Zambia

  Rt. Rev. Telesphore-George Mpundu,   (Chairman) Bishop of Mbala/Mpika   Most Rev. Adrian Mung'andu,   Archbishop of Lusaka   Most Rev. James Spaita,   Archbishop of Kasama   Most. Rev Adam Kozlowiecki, SJ,   Retired Archbishop of Lusaka   Rt. Rev. Dennis de Jong,   Bishop of Ndola   Rt. Rev. Medardo Mazombwe,   Bishop of Chipata   Rt. Rev. Raymond Mpezele,   Bishop of Livingstone   Rt. Rev. Paul Lungu, SJ,   Bishop of Monze   Rt. Rev. Aaron Chisha,   Bishop of Mansa   Rt. Rev. Noel O'Regan, S.M.A.,   Bishop of Solwezi