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Rejoicing and Vigilantly Living in Hope

Rejoicing and Vigilantly Living in Hope
Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Malawi
31 March 2002

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Greetings

Rejoicing with the risen Christ and vigilantly looking into the future with hope during this glorious Easter season, we your Bishops greet you and wish you peace in the name of God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ in union with His Spirit. May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts and minds with joy and hope to liberate you from all destructive powers and to free you for all that goes into building you up into a Church and society befitting God's redeemed sons and daughters, worthy to be presented to the God of all glory.

Gratitude for the Centenary

July, 2001, we experienced the climax of a great year for the Church in Malawi. We celebrated one hundred years (1901 - 2001) of Catholicism in this country. We witnessed a splendid and memorable national celebration which was presided over by the special papal envoy, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze.

In a very deep and touching way we experienced the joy and richness of being Church as family of God. As a representative of the laity put it during the centenary celebrations: the Catholic Church in Malawi has come of age, it has prominently developed with the full participation of the laity through whom it makes its presence and action felt. With profound gratitude and satisfaction, we look back and recall your devoted and lively participation in several events and activities, in various parts of our country, in the celebration of the centenary. The year of the centenary celebration, like a bridge, has helped us to cross into a new century of living and witnessing our faith. The 21st Century which we have now begun is inviting us to greater challenges of deepening our Christian faith through up to date, modern methods of evangelization.We are called to intensify the formation of all agents of evangelization.

The signs of the times are calling the Church today to develop renewed and relevant Church ministries, in response to the assessed social and pastoral needs of our people. Christians are called to greater responsibilities in collaborating in the tasks of building the Church and in developing a clear vision, mission and plans for a self-supporting, self-ministering and self-propagating Church, with a well focused evangelization strategy.

The Centenary Celebrations must be translated into well thought, faith-filled and communally formulated pastoral plans at Diocesan, Parish and Small Christian Community levels, with a definite implementation programme.

Some of Our People's Concerns Today

While we express gratitude for the Centenary Celebrations and send you joyful Easter greetings as we commemorate the joyful mysteries of the resurrection of our Lord, we are aware of the impact on family and social life of the maize-shortage crisis, of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, violence, occasional police brutality and partiality, armed robbery and corruption. Events and proceedings in the National Assembly are also a cause of concern for us. We do recognise the hardships and difficulties these realities are causing and so the Spirit of Christ moves our heart to compassion and action (Mt. 14:14). We would like to encourage all of you to promote the good efforts of many of our people at curbing the causes of the social ills we experience. The Spirit of the risen Christ is given to us for our transformation, renewal and for the recreation of our world.

Give Them Something to Eat

When the disciples asked our Lord to send away the hungry crowds, he challenged them into action by asking them to feed the hunger stricken people (Mt. 14:15-16). It is noted today that many of our people are greatly distressed on account of the current food situation. The shortage, the non-accessibility and the pricing of maize have caused serious concern and worry. We appeal to Christians and all Malawians to share... their fish and bread ... (Jn. 6:9) with those who have less or nothing. In sharing food and breaking bread together and as we listen to each other, we shall recognise the risen Lord in our midst as did the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:29-32).

We wish the Government to be seen to succeed in handling the present food crisis. We, your Pastors thank and encourage all those people and organisations that have made and are making positive steps in assisting the many victims of this affliction.

In a special way, we express gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who has expressed solidarity and compassion to the people of Malawi by making a token donation of US$15,000 to assist in our present crisis. We, the Bishops have also contacted Caritas Internationalis for aid, and we hope they will respond in a significant way.

The nation expects the relevant Government bodies to have sound policies on strategy for reserving grain, the authorisation for the sale of maize and on the pricing of such essential commodities as maize. Families must exercise foresight and learn to plan and reserve enough maize for food consumption and seed.

They must also learn to diversify crop and farm production so that a variety of crops are available for food and nourishment.

Root Out All Violence

Christ who suffered a violent death said,“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” (Mt. 5:9). And after the resurrection he wished his disciples the gift of peace (Lk. 24:36). Let us open our hearts to the peace which the risen Christ offers us.

Since we continue to see, note and face repeated acts of violence, more especially political violence which now appears to be on the increase, we earnestly pray for an end to interpersonal and inter-group violence and hostilities, whatever their source. Violence, sense of insecurity and all forms of threats to peace discourage and hamper creative work, initiatives and development.

We also pray for restraint and for reformed democratic attitudes in leaders especially for law-enforcing bodies and offices or other groups in dealing with diverse cases. This includes our attitude to peaceful demonstrations or assemblies of citizens and associations, actions which are legitimate and constitutional expressions of people's legitimate constitutional freedoms. As they exercise their freedoms citizens are bound to responsible behaviour and to respect the freedoms of others and the law which binds everybody. We invite everyone to ensure that love will prevail over hatred and hostilities, peace over violence, truth over falsehood, forgiveness over revenge, and broader community values and interests over personal, selfish or partisan interests. We should also instill discipline in our families, schools, political institutions and places of work because a lack of discipline and the misconception of freedom contribute to much of the violence we see around.

Protect and Promote Fundamental Values

Together we must continue to search how we can protect and promote the most important human and God-given values. All of us treasure, and so we should promote, values such as respect for life, the truth, the rule of law, freedom, justice, fairness, honesty, faithfulness and high integrity of those in leadership, civil servants and indeed all citizens. These are values which we have referred to repeatedly since our March 1992 Pastoral Letter, Living Our Faith. Citizens are also crying for a social environment free of discrimination and for equal opportunities: be it in education, employment, promotions at work-place or access to credit facilities.

Leaders and Institutions Called to Honourable Service

Our Lord Jesus Christ invites us to loving service of others, the community and society (Jn.13:14-17). Leadership and its structures are for the service of society's common good. Malawians are a people that have reverential respect for leadership, seniority and established institutions of Government and society. Certain events and proceedings in Parliament are disturbing and bring to disrepute institutions and persons that should normally be held in high esteem. Instead of wasting time and resources on petty matters, personal attacks and useless exchanges, Members of Parliament should focus on issues of national importance. The party in power should be open to and welcome constructive criticism and valid proposals coming from the Opposition and the Opposition must be ready to work with the Government of the day on policies that will benefit all Malawians.

Violence at the premises of the legislature, the way of amending the Constitution, the apparent conflict between the legislature and the judiciary are some of the critical areas causing grave concern to our nation. Our leaders and institutions are called to render honourable service to the nation and our communities. As participants in the building of our nation, let us all cultivate proper and reputable leadership qualities which are necessary for the good governance of any community or nation.

Respect For the Rule of Law

Jesus Christ said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law. I have not come to abolish but fulfil (it)” (Mt.5:17). Any community or society needs laws and its laws must be adhered to and enforced. Nobody is above the law. In recent years we have seen an increase of cases of corruption and unaccountability in Malawi, in certain instances entailing exorbitant sums of money. Many people wonder and question how occasionally, very serious cases, sometimes involving people in high offices, go unpunished while petty cases of simple persons are frequently severely punished. The God we worship is impartial in his judgements and He is no respecter of persons.

All of us citizens, especially the governors and leaders as role models, must abide by the rule of law, ought to respect the Constitution and the procedures laid therein. The Constitution is the law of the Land and should not be tampered with for quick political gains.

Any amendment to the Constitution should be preceded by broad public consultations and consensus. On fundamental issues, no change should be done without a referendum. Furthermore, no Bill should be allowed to pass into law if it unduly restricts and contradicts the Bill of Rights, with regard to citizens freedom of association and right to participate in peaceful activity intended to influence the composition and policies of Government.

We would like to appeal to the governors and leaders that they respect the principle of separation of powers so that the three arms of Government: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary competently and freely exercise their constitutional powers with the necessary, legitimate checks and balances, one on the other, without intimidation, interference or undue influence, on and of the other. If we do not respect democratic processes and principles, we shall be reverting and backsliding to a one party system where the independence of the judiciary and legislature was systematically compromised by design. Some of the trends we see today are quite worrisome and deserve immediate redress. Together we should protect and promote the good achievement and values of participatory democracy, freedom, justice, peace and rule of law for which the human soul and mind unceasingly crave.

Abundant Life Through Love and Compassion

God sent his Son into the world so that we may have life and have it to the full (Jn.10:10). The tragedy of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is another singular monumental force that distresses and frustrates our life. Statistics for the world situation and especially for Africa and Malawi are scaring. The pandemic arrests development and economic growth, wipes away families, leaves behind orphans, widows/widowers, shortens life expectancy, challenges our faith and social values. We call upon all, without discrimination and free of any stigmatization, to love and care for the sick as dignified children of God created in His image.

As Christians we are to reach out, in compassion and solidarity, to all the sick members of the Body of Christ (1Cor. 12:27). We emphatically proclaim and teach Gospel values of fidelity in marriage and abstention outside marriage and condemn all that encourages promiscuity. We are happy to see, and we encourage, the many initiatives taken to care for the sick, to render counselling services, and the various efforts being made to put up programmes for orphans and widows/widowers.

Conclusion: For Peace, We Pray

We hail Christ the Prince of Peace and the King of Justice (Is.9:5-6). He comes to bring good tidings to the poor, the disadvantaged: food to the hungry, sight to the blind, defence to the weak and powerless, and healing to the sick. Christ brings us hope and new life: people who were in darkness will see a great light (Is.9:1). As messengers of Christ, let us bring hope, light and abundant life to each other. In his several appearances to his disciples after rising from the dead Jesus said: Peace be with you (Lk.24:36, Jn. 20:19, 21,26).

We must constantly pray for this peace. We invoke Mary the Queen of Peace, and the Mother of him who is our Peace (Eph.2:14) to pray for us so that God may sustain our efforts and those of all humanity in the search for peace and well-being. We join the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II and the world religious leaders in praying for peace in the world. The peace we pray for is peace as the fruit of justice.

In his message of peace at the beginning of this year, the Holy Father said: “No Peace without Justice, No Justice without Forgiveness”. Indeed, if reconciliation and forgiveness, justice and fairness are not part of our relationships how can we, as a God fearing people hope to be ministers of God’s peace and expect to build our nation and social life on a firm foundation? As we recognise the offences committed against God and His people and vigilantly face and accept the evil in us and in our society which has led and leads to deplorable elements and traits in our social life, God calls each one of us to conversion of heart and renewal through prayer, fasting, penance and compassionate acts of mercy. With Christ risen from the dead, let us turn a new page and begin a new chapter this Easter. And let us resolve to be faithful and to respond positively to the mission and calling of our Lord to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature (Mk.16:15) through our words and deeds.

Catholic Bishops of Malawi

Tarcisius G. Ziyaye, Archbishop of Blantyre
Felix E. Mkhori, Bishop of Lilongwe
Alessandro Assolari, Bishop of Mangochi
Allan Chamgwera, Bishop of Zomba
Joseph M. Zuza, Bishop of Mzuzu
Remi Ste-Marie, Bishop of Dedza
Felix E. Mkhori

Apostolic Administrator of Chikwawa