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Celebrating the Centenary:With Gratitude and Focusing on the Present and Future Challenges of the Church

Celebrating the Centenary:With Gratitude and Focusing on the Present and Future Challenges of the Church
Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Malawi
25 March 2001

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Greetings

The grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with you as we celebrate this year
the 100th anniversary of the Catholic Church in Malawi.

Introduction

We, your Bishops write you this letter to launch the celebration of the centenary through which we will together express our profound gratitude to God for the gift of faith centred on Christ. We thank and praise the Lord for the gift of the Gospel and for all what the Church has realised through the tireless efforts of missionaries and its local peoples in Malawi. During this special time of grace we invite you to take time to evaluate the evangelisation and missionary work of the Church over the past 100 years as well as to plan and focus on the present and future challenges of the Church.

The Mponda Foundation

In celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic Church in Malawi, the historical dimension of this event cannot be overlooked. Therefore, as we thank God for His gifts, we remember the many committed missionaries who brought the faith to Malawi. The Catholic missionaries first arrived in Malawi in 1889. These were the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) who arrived on the shores of Lake Malawi in the territory of Chief Mponda in Mangochi District.

It was not easy for the missionaries to start Mponda Mission Centre. Sickness and difficult living conditions were a problem and they were at the mercy of local inhabitants and colonisers. The Mponda expedition was not allowed to exercise its ministry by the Chief, who had given them permission to settle in his territory with the hope that they could supply him with fire arms. The Chief also saw some value in an alliance with the White Father Missionaries.

 

Mponda, the Muslim Yao Chief who received the Priests was struggling to keep both the British and the Portuguese at bay, and probably hoped that the presence of Europeans in his village would prevent an attack by either power.[1]

At seeing that the missionaries were not fighters, the Chief kept them in custody and they were like slaves for eighteen months. They did not stay long at Mponda. Thus, “After eighteen months of sickness, loneliness, anxiety, without having administered a single adult baptism, the White Fathers steamed up the Lake en route for Bembaland in Zambia where they founded Mambwe Mission.”[2]

Arrival of the Montfort Missionaries at Nzama

Even though circumstances forced the missionaries to move out of Mponda, the White Fathers had their heart and soul in Malawi. Thus, while Bishop Dupont, a White Father, was on sick leave in France, he persuaded a friend of his youth, Pierre Bourget of the Montfort Fathers to found a mission on the Shire Highlands. [3] This was a clear manifestation of their love and zeal for missionary work, a fact that cannot go without our acknowledgement. These were sacrificial seeds that have contributed to the establishment and growth of the Catholic Church in Malawi.

On 25th of July, 1901 the Montfort Missionaries arrived at Nzama near Ntcheu, welcomed by the Ngoni Chief Njobvuyalema. Nzama is the first permanent Catholic Mission and will be one of the focal points of the centenary celebrations. These missionaries encountered many problems and difficulties in trying to settle at Nzama and indeed in the whole country. The first three missionaries: “... lived in a hut, accepting the privations, fatigue and inconveniences inherent in any life of founders of mission stations.” [4]As soon as they arrived, they set to work. They cared for the sick and started a school. They did their best to be with the people. Their work bore fruit when the first catechumens were baptised in 1905 after four years of catechumenate. [5]

Subsequent Foundations

The White Fathers later returned and arrived at Mua on 13th of September 1902. They also founded mission stations at Likuni, Kachebere and Nguludi which was handed over to the Montfort Missionaries in 1904. In all these places one cannot fail to notice the missionaries’ selfless spirit of dedication and commitment.

General Missionary Work in Malawi

Along with the early Montfort and White Father Missionaries there were also the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, and the Daughters of Wisdom, the Xaverian Brothers and the Marist Brothers and many catechists and other missionary and religious institutes who helped in the establishment of the Church in Malawi. These will be remembered for their heroic self-giving during the first period of evangelisation. The early missionaries lived and worked under poor and difficult conditions. They chose to share the life of the local people and because of climate and living conditions they were vulnerable to diseases such as malaria. Indeed,

Most dangerous of all was the tropical climate and the fevers that followed. Although quinine was known, the causes of malaria, black water fever and many other diseases had not been discovered. Few of the missionaries were given any training in the use of medicines… and poor communications often caused shortage of medical supplies.[6]

The early missionaries also laboured under unfavourable and insecure political conditions. Coming from different countries in Europe, where different colonial groups originated, did not assist with their image. Local people found it difficult to trust them and it was not easy to distinguish one group of colonisers or missionaries from another. We appreciate the heroism of these first missionaries who, like St. Paul (2 Cor. 4:8-9), worked in such hard conditions and persevered successfully without giving up.

The missionary work was successful partly because of the great support of many committed catechists who brought the Gospel to the local people at grass roots level. These were Christians of great faith, and we appreciate their work. We also extend a vote of thanks to the many volunteers who, down through the years, contributed so much to the establishment of the Church in Malawi.

The Christian Teaching and the Traditional Way of Life

The preaching of the Good News brought into people’s lives new perspectives, attitudes and values such as freedom from various forms of slavery. However some difficulties and conflicts arose from this encounter between traditional practices of the people and the teaching of the Church.

Frequently, their teaching provoked trouble, for the missionaries were suspicious at some existing customs which appeared to them to conflict with the teaching of Christianity. Volunteers for the mission field were seldom given much preparation for the life that lay ahead. Coming from Europe with no knowledge of tribal societies, they were sometimes shocked by the customs which had they understood them better, might have caused less difficulty.[7]

At that time the Church had little understanding of local custom and practice and gave them little credit. Other obstacles which missionaries faced were due to their religious practices. For instance, the celibate state of the Catholic missionaries aroused great suspicions. Thus:

After the local headmen at Nzama were reassured that Priests had not come to steal their wives, the people accepted them and they were allowed to stay.[8]

Inspite of many horrific tales about the missionaries, they were never discouraged. Instead they continued selflessly to proclaim the Reign of God with great dedication and zeal. Happily, now the Church has a more open and positive approach to the values of traditional cultures. Malawians also have greater appreciation of Christian values and practices some of which are actually not inconsistent with the local cultural value systems. The Good News of Christ must continue challenging all peoples and cultures everywhere and at all times, despite setbacks that may be there.

Establishment of the Hierarchy and Local Institutions

Emerging from all of this, the local Church began to take root. We can see the evidence of this in the emergence of congregations of local Sisters and Brothers, including the Poor Clares’ prayer house in Lilongwe, a witness to the contemplative life. Vocations to the priesthood flourished. And soon, instead of sending seminarians for training to Kipalapala in Tanzania, there was a need to build St. Anthony (Kachebere) Seminary, followed by St. Peter’s Seminary in Zomba and later St. John the Baptist, a diocesan major seminary, in Mangochi. Today, many young Malawians are joining international religious and missionary congregations, hence the Inter Congregational Seminary (ICS) at Balaka, a sign of growth of the local Church. To help people in their prayer life, Carmel in Kasungu and St. Theresa’s in Lilongwe were founded. In 1957 Father Cornelius Chitsulo, the first Malawian Priest became the Bishop of Dedza, the first Malawian Bishop. In 1959 the Holy See established the hierarchy in Malawi, then called Nyasaland, with four dioceses: Blantyre Archdiocese under Archbishop John-Baptist Theunissen, SMM, Lilongwe diocese under Bishop Joseph Fady, M.Afr., Zomba Diocese under Bishop Lawrence P. Hardman, SMM and Dedza Diocese under Bishop C. Chitsulo.

Achievements by the Church

The missionary efforts were encouraged by the integral approach to evangelisation which characterised most church activities. We would like to mention three areas through which the faith that was handed on to us has had great impact upon all of us and the society at large.

Education

The Church will be remembered for its interest and great contribution in education.

Already in February l902, which was hardly five months after the arrival of the missionaries at Nzama, they opened their first school. In such schools, they fulfilled the command of the Lord to go and teach all nations (Mt 28: l6-20). At Mua, a carpentry shop, meant to be a training school, was also opened.[9]

Schools, training institutions, etc, emerged as the Church took root. These schools have helped many in Malawi to enjoy success and contribute to national development. These Church schools will be remembered for satisfactorily blending the task of imparting academic information with that of forming and training pupils into responsible citizens with well built up characters and skills that are useful to society. Our education system today may want to learn something from the past for improvement of its quality. A word of thanks is due to the different missionary congregations. These Brothers and Sisters put all their resources into trying to equip Malawians with good, integral and quality education. Here we recall with gratitude the good works of educators like the Marist Brothers at Zomba Catholic, Likuni, Mtendere and St John’s Teachers Training College, the White Sisters at Likuni Girls, Nkhamenya Girls and Bembeke Girls Teachers Training College, the Brothers of the Immaculate Conception (F.I.C.) at Nguludi (School for the Blind and Deaf) and Likulezi Teachers Training College, the Marianist Brothers at Chaminade (Karonga), Banga (NkhataBay) and Mzuzu Technical College, the Daughters of Wisdom Sisters at Stella Maris (Blantyre) and St Mary’s (Zomba), the Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception Sisters at Mary Mount (Mzuzu) as well as the Xaverian Brothers and the Holy Family Brothers, and many others.

Hospitals

Health care and the establishment of clinics and hospitals is another important area of the services the Church has always rendered to Malawians. Jesus told the seventy-two disciples to go and cure the sick and tell them that the Kingdom of God is close at hand (Lk 10:9). Thus, many of the missionary Sisters who came to Malawi worked in professional health care among our people. And through their medical services in missionary clinics they gave a clear testimony to God’s love and care for the sick and suffering. In the footsteps of Jesus the compassionate Healer, the Sisters together with many local personnel, have brought fullness of life and healing to many (Mk 1: 29-34).

Other Social Services

Pastoral themes today underscore the fact that God sent His Son to be one of us so that He might liberate His people from slavery, hunger, misery, oppression and ignorance (Lk4: 18-19; Jn 6: 11-14). Hatred and injustice which have roots in selfishness should one day give way to the light of truth and justice. The efforts to abolish the slave trade in Africa were encouraged and upheld by the missionary efforts with their doctrine of respect for human life.

A significant number of positive elements in Malawi, and indeed in Africa can be attributed to the efforts which the missionaries and the Church exerted in many social development projects. The traditional family spirit of Malawians has been enhanced and broadened to be more inclusive by the Gospel value of community and neighbourliness (Lk 11: 29-37). The spiritual and social values of Small Christian Communities (Acts 4: 32-35) can today be witnessed both in rural and urban areas especially at times of sickness, death, disasters as well as during self-help community development projects. We recall that our Pastoral Letter of 1992 contributed to the political change for democracy. The fruits of these events, which are now part of the history of the country, forcefully remain to challenge all of us to play our roles by actively and responsibly participating in the social development issues.

The Memorable Visit of Pope John Paul II to Malawi

As we recall 100 years of the Catholic Church’s evangelisation work in Malawi, we cannot but vividly remember the memorable visit of the Holy Father to our local Church in May 1989. With the theme “Be converted and Live”, he captured our hearts and reminded us of the words of the Saviour at the beginning of His Ministry (Mk 1: 15) which call us to repent and follow Him who is the Way, the Truth and Life (Jn 14:6). The presence of the universal shepherd among us revived our faith, renewed our bonds of unity and fellowship with other Christian faithful everywhere in the world and spurred our resolve to commit ourselves to Christ and his Church in the task of evangelisation. We pray that the memories of a century of Christianity will assist us to live the present faithfully and fruitfully and to face the challenges of the future with courageous hope, aware that Christ is with us always to the end of time (Mt 28:20).

THE CHALLENGES TO THE CHURCH TODAY

Inspired by the example of our predecessors, our Church today wants to continue to bring the light of the Gospel to the people of Malawi. Jesus is the light of the world (Jn 8: 12) and with Him as members of his body, the Church, we are called to light up the world (Mt 5: 14). We wish this centennial year to be a time of conversion and prayer for all our Christians and of renewed commitment to the service of our country and its people.

The Present Situation in Malawi

In our Lenten letter of 1998 ‘Come back to me and live’, we made an analysis of the progress to that day in the evolution of our country. We believe this analysis is still valid today and invite you to read again that letter. The centenary year gives us a new opportunity to look at the challenges still lying ahead of us.

Acknowledge Progress Made

We rejoice to acknowledge that Malawians today can enjoy the basic freedoms that are the gift of a true democracy. To a much greater degree we see that people’s rights are recognised and protected. In this context we note that people do not fear to express their opinions publicly, our press has improved noticeably, all the citizens can generally, with a few unfortunate exceptions, associate freely for whatever legitimate purposes etc.

The understanding of true democracy and people’s participation in public life must still grow but we can notice an increasing interest in social and political life. We thank the Lord for the peace prevailing in our country Despite our many differences and occasional tensions, we have kept our tradition of living and working together in harmony and so are spared the conflicts afflicting so many countries in the world today. This has captured the imagination of many people who visit Malawi. Hence they appreciate better the expression: “Malawi the Warm Heart of Africa.”

The Challenges that continue to face us

Poverty

All these aspects of progress should not mask a more sombre reality which may be the case on the ground. In spite of all the efforts to alleviate poverty, for many of our people life seems to have become more difficult. During the electoral campaigns, politicians were promising a fairer distribution of riches that is slow in coming and at times it appears only very few are benefiting. We wish that there would be adjustments to salaries especially for junior staff, better remuneration for goods produced, fairer prices for essential commodities. But this is not happening quickly enough. Many of our people are experiencing frustration.

Our people understand that the world economy coupled with the crisis of HIV/AIDS and other factors may have an adverse effect on our economy. But they are upset when they see how people elected to public office quickly get very rich and live in luxury while the masses are in poverty. To look once again at our priorities may be as urgent a task as finding new resources. We can only regret that our too meagre resources are not always directed to essential priorities.

Corruption and Fraud

The recent revelations of widespread corruption and fraud in the public sector have undermined the trust of the people in those they have elected. These abuses have to be dealt with firmly and without exception of persons if we are to restore the confidence of the citizens ;n the democratic process and in the arms of Government.
It is disturbing to hear that the sector of education was especially affected by these financial scandals. At a moment when the Government is resolved to facilitate access to education for all children, it is difficult to understand that some persons would abuse their position to get rich quickly at the expense of our youth who are the first victims of these injustices.

Deteriorating Public Services

Despite the dedication of many professional workers, our public services seem to be progressively deteriorating. Our health services are in crisis, crime is increasing, petty theft is a problem which often goes unchallenged by the police service. The level of insecurity for our people continues to grow especially for the poor who have no persona1 means of protecting themselves.

It would not help anybody that we extend the list of the problems facing our nation. Most of them are well known but what we need to do is to recognise the real state of the nation and work together to find solutions.

Concerted Efforts for a Better Malawi

As members of the Christian community, we want to be part of this search for solutions and commit ourselves to the building up of a better Malawi. This country of ours is a gift from God and we must develop it for the good and welfare of its people We believe that we have the power to achieve that goal. We believe that with the help of all our people we can remedy our problems and improve the quality of life for all Malawians without discriminating against anyone or any group.

We know that we all need on-going conversion and renewal since we do not always practice what we preach! We want this centenary year to be more than just a remembrance of the past. Many of the activities this year will be oriented towards a renewal of the Christian community through personal renewal and commitment to service of society.

Those in charge of our nation, those in Government or in public office have a special duty to show concern for the problems facing our country. Our Government has been elected on promises of good governance, transparency and accountability. For this reason, leaders have no reason to take offence when justified discontent is voiced. All in our society must take up and fulfil their proper roles. The media and newspapers must continue their monitoring and information dissemination duty without harassment Donor agents from overseas are entitled to ensure that the resources brought in the country are put to proper use. Our Catholic Lay Professionals must play their role as committed Christians in the various fields they serve in society and public life.

Safeguard the Constitution and Democracy

The civil society needs to be well informed before decisions are made and more channels of communication have to be set up for this purpose. The Government ought to hold referenda for matters of greater importance so it knows the opinion of its citizens before deciding on critical, substantial matters especially when fundamental aspects of the Nation’s Constitution are at stake. The basic democratic principles which are enshrined in our Constitution must be respected and safeguarded and we should not allow anyone or any group to manipulate others into eroding the Constitution.

To hear of politicians bitterly fighting among themselves gives the impression that political careers and individual holding of offices take priority over the good of the country. Political parties should be democratic and they should be willing to favour the emergence of new leadership making room for the younger generation. They must allow freedom of expression and discussion of divergent views on matters of party and national concern. We deplore in the strongest terms all forms of violence and intimidation and more particularly organised violence during campaign and polling times whether intra-party or inter-party. It is now time that we reach some kind of political maturity and work together for the good of the citizens and our beloved nation. With meaningful, clear and distinct ideologies, political parties must engage themselves and Malawians towards national unity with due respect to and acceptance of the richness and blessedness of legitimate diversity.

Call to All to Participate

Every Christian must seek and work for the good of the community. However, remedies to our problems should not be expected only from public institutions. All the efforts of government bodies, development agencies or non-governmental organisations fail if they do not meet a suitable response from individual citizens. We your Bishops, you as individuals or our Christian communities, our Catholic Lay Professionals, all of us, need to contribute to improving the quality of life in our country. It should not be left to us Bishops alone or to public figures alone nor to Christians or common citizens alone. Each of us and all of us have a duty. To each of us Christ’s command has been addressed: “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world” (Mt 5: 13-16). In the light of all this, each needs to ask oneself as a Christian, what needs to be done to change the situation for the better.

Solidarity used to be one of the major guiding principles in our Malawian society. Our modern society seems to be losing its sense of oneness and dedication for the common good. The results are obvious. We see them in the lack of commitment to excellent work or services diligently provided, in the spreading of dishonest practices, in poor maintenance of the existing substructures; in the lack of respect for other people’s property; in the vandalising of public property and in the practice of irresponsible behaviour.

Many factors may lead to these evils which, however, have their deepest roots in the human heart. As the Lord Jesus said: “For from the heart come evil thought, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy” (Mt 15:19). They will only be corrected if we are converted toward more justice and greater concern for our fellow citizens. “The Lord God of all hosts says, ‘I take no pleasure in your festivals, but let justice flow like a river and integrity like an unfailing stream’” (Amos 5:21,24).

Our religious practice and our claim to be Christians will be genuine and meaningful only if in our daily lives, we truly imitate our Lord and Master who came ‘not to be served but to serve’ (Mt 20:28).

The Tragedy of HIV-AIDS

The Aids epidemic is a human problem with social, moral and spiritual implications, and should not be reduced to its medical dimension of combating the virus. It plunges us in a culture of death and shatters the joyful attitude of the Malawian people towards life. It overshadows the very act that is at the source of the transmission of life. It destroys the fabric of the family and society. It brings to a halt the development of our country. It questions our vision of God and challenges our Christian preaching of hope. All sectors of the population are affected: government officials, medical and teaching professions, army and police personnel, ministers of religion, besides the general populace, all fall victim to the sickness.

Fighting the disease

As disciples of Christ who came to bring life, and life to the full (Jn 10: 10), we Christians would like to be in the forefront in the fight against this disease and we shall spare no efforts to bring comfort to its victims. We note with satisfaction that many individual Christians and some religious institutes have given a priority to this action and have joined our Home-Based Care (HBC) Programme. Special attention for Aids patients is given in our hospitals and centres for the care of orphans have been opened. Information and openness about HIV/AIDS has become a regular part of our instructions to the faithful. This must continue to be intensified. We shall also need to address the challenges of rampant poverty in our communities, the shortage of sporting and recreational facilities as well as the high unemployment rate.

We wish to join forces with all people engaged in the fight to control the disease as our participation in the recent Government/Faith Communities consultation shows. Even in these collaborations, the Church retains its specific role of giving moral guidance and teaching to its Christian faithful and society at large.

The Avoidance and Prevention of HIV/AIDS

The avoidance and prevention of HIV/Aids raises serious practical and moral questions and people are looking up to the Church for guidance. The present campaign by most non-religious groups promotes condoms as though they were completely effective. It gives a false sense of security and it spreads the idea that promiscuity is normal. It does not give full information especially with regard to the ineffectiveness of the condom.

How can we best prevent the spreading of the disease? It is our conviction that the victory over HIV/AIDS will only be the fruit of change through a responsible choice of behaviour, respectful of all human and spiritual values. The Church’s message has been constant and is confirmed by research and non-religious sources.

All authors who are concerned with prevention of HIV infection are agreed on one point: only a radical change in sexual behaviour can produce the real and total protection that cannot be expected from condoms alone. The only strategy which is really and totally efficient against HIV is abstinence or fidelity in sexual relations within a monogamous marriage, according to the formula of the centres for Disease Control of Atlanta (USA): Abstinence or sexual intercourse with one mutually faithful uninfected partner are the only totally effective prevention strategies. [10]

This teaching of abstinence and marital fidelity is more than just a self-evident practical guideline and is not an attempt to impose a monastic way of life. It goes to the very root of the problem, that is respect for human sexuality and the values of family life.

What is at stake here is a vision of man and woman, of their dignity, of the meaning and significance of sexuality... Wherever there is true education in the values of the family, of fidelity, of marital chastity, of the mutual gift of self, and wherever the intrusive forms of promiscuity are overcome, man will achieve a human victory, even over this terrible phenomenon. [11]

This vision is founded on a high valuation of the human person and the immense resources existing in the heart of people. Trusting in divine assistance through faith but also believing in the greatness of our people, we know they can be motivated to decide for life by choosing means which are both moral, risk free and totally avoid transmission. It is imperative that our youth should hear this message. We know that they can respond to the challenge. Their witness can contribute greatly in changing the prevailing mentality and behaviour which exerts such a tremendous influence among their peers.

The appeal for a change of behaviour and mentality is also addressed to the adult people. The role model they play towards the youth makes it the more urgent that they heed the challenge for conversion. “Unless the social leaders and other models that the young look up to change their own behaviour, the youth shall not change either.” [12] We believe that Malawians like people of other countries with stories of success based on behavioural change, have the capacity and will power for the sake of life to discipline themselves, change their behaviour, abstain and choose life. We have many examples from traditional culture and modern Malawi of people who, under great long term deprivation, do without certain things for the sake of life and other beliefs and values.

Once again we urge all Malawians to commit themselves to the alleviation of the pains and sufferings brought about by the disease and to join the fight to contain and eventually to control it.

PARTICULAR CHALLENGES OF DIALOGUE

The Inculturation of the Gospel

Unity is a gift from Christ to his Church, which he wanted as a sign of his own mission from the Father when he prayed: “May they all be one so that the world may believe it was you who sent me” (Jn 17:21). The unity of the Church does not preclude the incarnation of the Gospel in the various cultures of the world. As “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14) [in a particular culture], so too the Good News, the Word of Jesus Christ proclaimed to the nations, must take root in the life-situation of the hearers of the Word.’’ [13] In this way, our cultural values are enriched by the ferment of the Gospel. They contribute to a better understanding of Jesus and His message. And every cultural group feels at home in the house of the Father. Our cultural diversity becomes a source of richness and blessing to the Church. Specific values, beliefs and trends of a culture are invitations to greater dialogue and understanding between the Gospel and the culture leading to an encounter of mutual enrichment. We must therefore, forge ahead in this task of inculturating the Gospel.

Dialogue among religious groups

“Openness to dialogue is the Christian’s attitude inside the community as well as with other believers and with men and women of good will’’ [14] By divine providence, we are citizens of a country with a long tradition of hospitality towards persons of diverse faith, beliefs and cultures, a country whose legislation guarantees the freedom of worship. We have proved that we can live together in harmony and join forces for the service of our country. We encourage you, our dear Catholic faithful during this centenary year to work for harmony and unity while you resolutely safeguard the truths of our faith as taught by mother Church in her new Catechism. As St. Peter says, “Be ready to give reasons for the hope of your faith...” (1 Pet 3: 15). There is need for all of us to deepen our faith and to understand it better while we answer the call to live in harmony with people of other faiths and beliefs.

Pluralism in socio-political life

A spirit of understanding, mutual respect and co-operation is a requirement for a flourishing democracy. In a PREVIOUS, we called upon all citizens of Malawi to protect and defend the ethnic, racial, political and religious richness of our country.

We must as a nation capitalise on what unites us together than on what divides us. Dialogue, social harmony, tolerance, reconciliation and amicable human relationships are the responsibilities of each individual towards the Malawi nation.[15]

We call upon all Malawians and especially political leaders to stop exploiting ordinary people by setting them against each other. People’s differences, be they ethnic, religious or otherwise, should not be used destructively to gain political mileage. We wish that instead of being divisive, we should all work cooperatively to reduce all forms of suffering common to the majority of Malawians. We pray and urge that any kind of discrimination should be avoided. Persons should be employed or fired on merit or demerit. Development aid should be shared out to all Malawians and all areas irrespective of political, religious affiliation or ethnic grouping.

CELEBRATING THE CENTENARY

The Centenary is a special time of grace for all Catholics. It is a time of thanksgiving for all the blessings we have received from God and His Church. It is an occasion to correct our mistakes, a time for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. It is above all a time of renewal and re-dedication with great hope for the future.

Priests

We invite all priests and urge them to renew their commitment to serve Christ and His Church. Some retreats and ongoing formation sessions have been organised to help them in their work. They are called upon to look at their lives and ministry in a prayerful way, “to be able to meet Christ in prayer and contemplate His face,” so that they animate the people of God and the world with the Spirit of the Lord.

Religious

Religious men and women are also invited to pray and reflect about their role in the Church and in the world. They are expected to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt 5:13-16). As a consecrated people, religious have a special call to witness to the Lord in the Church and society through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Their personal life and ministry must flow from the contemplation of the face of Christ in prayer. The Church and the world needs their special challenging witness especially today when secular trends are gripping the lives of many of our people. Prayer sessions are therefore being prepared for our religious to give them opportunities to reflect on their vocation and so discover how best they can answer the needs and challenges of today as we move into another century of witnessing to the Lord.

The Laity

The laity are seen as the leaven and yeast of society and have to answer that challenge and call. They will be helped with a number of workshops and retreats which will, hopefully, lead them to a better understanding of their faith and their role in the Church and in the world. We look forward to every Christian community and movement to benefit from this experience of renewal through these workshops and retreats.

The centenary celebration invites all of us to a renewal of faith. We are to revive our spiritual life through the constant reading of the Scriptures, through a deeper and full return to the sacraments of the Church especially that of penance and reconciliation in which we encounter the forgiving Christ who reconciles us with the merciful Father (Lk 15: 11-32) and with our neighbour (Mt. 5:23). We urge all of you to participate in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist more fruitfully and with great respect for Christ who is present in the sacred signs of Bread and Wine to be source of life for all (Jn 6:34-35).

We invite the laity to renew their commitment to married love in the sacrament of marriage. May they be true signs of faithfulness and love for our families today. The sacrificial love of Christ for his Church should continue to inspire husbands and wives in their married life (Eph 5:25), so that divorce and broken marriages (Mk 10:1-12) may be very rare in our families and communities.

Our Catechists and Lay Volunteers

Our catechists and lay volunteers play a vital role in the Church and this centenary is a special time for them also. We make a special appeal to those in charge of their formation to plan with them refresher courses and prayer sessions to assist them in their work of animating, teaching and guiding the Small Christian Communities.

Our Young People

A significant proportion of our Church and our country is its young people who are a source of new energy and hope for today and tomorrow. Rather than seeing them merely as leaders of tomorrow, we should begin to be more appreciative of young people’s leadership skills and their active involvement in the present life of our Church communities and country. They are a vibrant force in our midst. Their energy has got to be channelled to good, productive use. Our young people need to be motivated to greater things and must be offered a better vision of themselves and the World.

Our youth have the capacity to enjoy life and its freedom. But they, like all of us, need to ask themselves how they utilise this wonderful God-given gift of freedom especially today with the consequences of a democratic dispensation. What kind of freedom does one enjoy in Christ? It is freedom, but freedom from what and for what? Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II says that “Liberation is freedom from evil.” And Christ said it is the truth that makes one free. The truth is with God and His Son Jesus whom we must search for and find. Popular opinion and the thinking of the crowd do not necessarily represent the truth.

Accepting Christ as our Lord and Saviour and following the way of salvation will sometimes mean that we have to freely choose to go against popular opinion and attitudes on things like abortion, sexual immorality, drunkenness etc. Writing to the Corinthians St. Paul emphatically said: “... the body is not for sexual immorality, it is for the Lord... keep away from sexual immorality... and use your body for the glory of God” (I Cor 6: 14-20). As our Lord said we “... are in the world but not of the world” (Jn 17: 14-18). Our Lord already instructed us to enter the Kingdom of God by the narrow gate “... since the road which leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take in; but it is a narrow gale and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Mt 7: 13-14).

The centenary invitation to the youth and to all of us is to be a new creation in Christ (Eph 4:17-32). In baptism our old self was buried with Christ and through the power of his glorious resurrection we are to begin living a new life (:Rom 6: 1-11). St. James reminds us that our faith must include good works, otherwise it is dead (James 2: 14-16). In the name of Our Lord, we call upon everybody, especially our young people, to seize the opportunities in our communities to participate in good constructive social work: to take part in the Home Based Care Programmes, to get involved in programmes of people with disabilities, orphans and in the various apostolates and ministries in our communities. Remember, Christ said, “... in so far as you did this to one of the least of these... you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

Conclusion

We will celebrate the centenary with special gatherings to deepen our faith in Christ and to grow in the awareness of what we are, i.e. Church as family of God. On April 28th, 2001 there will be a celebration at Nzama to celebrate the founding of the first mission station by the Montfort Missionaries. On 28th July 2001 we will have a National Celebration of the Centenary in Lilongwe with the presence of the Holy Father’s Special Envoy, His Eminence Cardinal Francis Arinze to show our union with the rest of the Church.

We appeal to all of you to make this centenary year, a year of thanksgiving and renewal. We thank God for what he has done for the Catholic Church in Malawi in the past one hundred years. The hand of the Lord has been present from the humble beginnings to what we are today. What we are and what we have become as a Church is God’s gift and we must indeed be proud of this great gift.

We call upon all of you to intensify your prayer life and your reception of the sacraments especially the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist Renew your dedication to the praying and reading of the Bible as well as reflective recitation of the Holy Rosary with commitment to various devotions. We wish that we will all make greater efforts to understand better our faith through reading and reflecting on spiritual books and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We pray that we will all find time to reflect on and deepen our commitment to our various vocations as religious, priests and as married couples. May the spirit of the Lord revive the spirit of love and family life in the Church and in our homes. Let all these ways help us make the centenary celebrations a moment of growth in our faith and in our mission of evangelisation. The mission of the Church must effect the sanctification and transformation of our society and lead all to salvation.

In the footsteps of the early missionaries, we commend all of you to the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother. May she inspire and accompany us during the centenary year and ever after as we pray and ponder on all the wonderful things God has done for us and as we anticipate with hope the fulfilment of God’s promises “... for the life here and now and for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8).

Catholic Bishops of Malawi

Tarcisius G. Ziyaye, Archbishop of Blantyre
James Chiona, Archibishop Emeritus 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

 

Notes

[1] J. Weller et al., Main Stream Christianity, to 1980 in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Gweru, Mambo Press, 1984 p. 100.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Cfr. J. Baur, 2000 Years of Christianity in Africa, p. 213.
[4] R. Vezeau, The Apostolic Vicariate of Nyasa, p. 54.
[5] Ibid, p. 55.
[6]P. Tindall, History of Central Africa, Blantyre; Dzuka Publishing, Company Ltd., 1992. p. 101.
[7] Ibid., p. 112
[8] I. Linden, Catholic Peasants and Chewa Resistance in Nyasaland. p. 47.
[9] R. Vezeau, The Apostolic Vicariate of Nyasa, pp. 54 & 66.
[10] Mons. Jacques Suaudeau, “Prophylactics or Family Values? Stopping the Spread of HIV/AIDS”, in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition, n. 16, 19 April 2000, p. 9-10.
[11] Ibid.
[12] John Paul II, The Church in Africa, n. 60.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Message of the African Synod, n. 38
[15] ECM, Deepening our Christian Life, Montfort Media, June 2000, p. 14.