A Statement from the Episcopal Conference of Malawi to priests, men and women religious, catechists, all pastoral workers, the laity and people of good will.
At the conclusion of our first Biannual Plenary and Study Session that took place from 25th to 29th January, 1999;
having, among other things, carefully and seriously listened to, reflected and prayed upon developments, both positive and negative, that are taking place in the political field;
remembering our duty as pastors entrusted with God's people in our beloved and God-fearing nation and in fulfilment of our prophetic role as the conscience of the society stemming from our firm and fundamental belief that all men and women are made in the image and likeness of God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth (Gn 1:26-27);
in the wake of the very important forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary Elections next May and Local Government Elections later this year, we, Your Bishops and Fathers in the Faith, have decided to raise our voice to guide you, to encourage and even command you, dear Catholics and all people of good will, to remember to take up your Christian duty in this very important national exercise that is going t o determine the course Malawi will take in the next Millennium.
We have learnt with disappointment that some of you have decided not to vote and still others have not yet made up their mind. Some of the reasons you give include:
You therefore do not see any reason why you should vote again this year. All politicians are the same, you say.
We remind you that voting is not only your right, but rather your duty. If you withhold your vote, Malawians run a risk of getting into public offices people who have no national interest at heart and who are going to jeopardise the future of your children.
Exercise your right therefore and take up your Christian duty. Go, register and vote for the right persons. You must vote for people of integrity regardless of the region they come from, their tribe, language, political or religious affiliation. Malawi needs patriotic leaders, people who place national interest before personal ambitions.
In the same vain, may we appeal to our many good and competent Catholics to take up political offices in order to infuse this field with Christian and democratic values. Politics is the art of Government and not "Ndale" as we popularly call it.
Politics should not necessarily be dirty. You are the people who can cleanse this beautiful art from within through your active participation. Your vote is your birthright. Do not therefore sell it as Esau sold his for a plate of soup (Gen. 25:29-34).
As a new democratic nation we are all eager to see that the coming elections are free and fair. We want you to exercise your right and duty to vote freely and without fear or favour. In order to achieve this we are appealing to you to create an environment conducive to the realisation of our prayer. The following reflections are therefore presented to you for your consideration and action:
We have noticed that of late political violence is on the increase. What is even more sad is that nobody is accepting responsibility. We are all claiming to be victims and not authors of this violence. Violence is sinful and unbecoming of those who call themselves Christians.
We, Your Bishops, are condemning this unchristian behaviour uncondi-tionally. Jesus is asking us to do to others what we would like them to do to us (Lk 6, 31). Violence breeds violence and in the end no one is the winner. We urge you and command all Catholics to say NO to violence even when money is involved. Let us create a culture of peace and not of violence.
We know very well what political violence has costed our brothers and sisters elsewhere on this continent. We also urge all political players not to incite violence by word, deed or omission. A good leader is a unifier, a reconciler, a mediator and not a breeder of violence. Malawians, by nature, are not a violent people. Do not, therefore, turn them into a violent and ugly nation. We ask Catholics not to vote for those who are advocating violence.
This is one of the pillars of a democratic society. People should be free to belong to a political party they want. This should not be a source of, tension. We need to tolerate others' views and political beliefs, even when they are positively critical of our own. We ask you to consider members of other political parties as your brothers and sisters and not your enemies. Both of you have the same national interest and are children of the same God.
We urge you therefore to allow other parties to have access to your village, constituency, district or region without fear of harassment. We even encourage you to attend their rallies, not to disrupt them, but in order to be informed of the others' National Agenda instead of locking yourself up in your party of preference.
Furthermore, we ask you to attend the many beautiful programmes on civic and voter education that non-partisan groups such as PAC (public Affairs Committee) and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) have put in place so as to help you make an informed decision.
Tolerance is a real mark of a democrat.
We further appeal to you who are both Christians, political players and media owners to provide a level ground to all other players. We appeal to both the Ruling Party and the Opposition to accommodate each other's views and concentrate on issues and programmes other than on personalities. The media should be objective and professional.
In a special way we appeal to the Government to free the MBC (Malawi Broadcasting Corporation) for the electoral process and to distinguish between Government and Party functions. And we appeal to the Electoral Commission and the Security Forces to quickly come up with proper and clear strategies to curb violence, instill peace and confidence in our people and to do this without fear or favour.
We ask priests, sisters and all religious leaders not to campaign for political party. Though the Church allows you to have personal political affiliations, you are forbidden to exert pressure on your congregations to vote for this or that party of your personal choice.
The Church does not take sides with any political party or system.
If anyone has to win, then they must do so through just and fair means.
Here we can only repeat what we said in Building Our Future in March, 1994. The right to vote places on us a serious responsibility to abide by the just and publicly verified results even if they do not accord with our personal preferences.
We should avoid the temptation of refusing to accept the democratic wishes of the majority in a free and fair election. Such a refusal would pose a grave danger to our society and it must be firmly resisted. Should democracy fail, the likely alternative is chaos or some form of dictatorship. Let us win with dignity and lose with grace.
Again our 1994 Pastoral Letter, Building Our Future, is relevant here.
If we want to build a beautiful, peaceful and great nation, we need to pray earnestly. It is only prayer that can save Malawi. We need to turn to our Lady, Queen of Peace, and keep vigil, if possible.
The whole Catholic Church and all other people of good will are called to pray for Malawi and the safety of her people.
For the psalmist is right when he says:
If the Lord does not build the houseIn vain do its builders labour,If the Lord does not watch over the cityIn vain does the watchman keep vigil. (Ps 126)
If our prayers are to be heard, we need to make some sacrifice through fasting and abstinence. We therefore invite every Catholic and all people of good will to fast at least once a week and to abstain weekly from alcoholic drinks, preferably on Fridays. We encourage novenas and vigils.
We urge you to be faithful in prayer, so that our beloved and God-fearing country and its great people, may continue to be blessed both before and after the elections and into the future.
May God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give to you all, brothers and sisters, peace and love with faith (Eph 6: 23).