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Come Back to Me and Live

Come Back to Me and Live
A Call to Repentance as We Walk Together toward the Year 2000, A Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishops of Malawi
March 1998

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
May God’s grace, love and peace be with you all!

1.0 Introduction

1.1 At the beginning of this Lenten Season, Our Lord is once again calling us to geniune repentance: “This is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel” (Mk. 1:15). Echoing these words we, your Bishops, would like to invite you to reflect on the various issues affecting our lives today and put them under the light of the Gospel. This is to enable us to bear that kind of witness which the Gospel challenges us to . Jesus says of us:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden … In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven. (Mt. 5:14-16)[1]

1.2 Christians should express their faith not only in word but also in deed. This is what James means when he says that Faith without good works is dead (Jn 2: 14-16). The African Synod calls this “the witness of life.”

Baptism is the public profession of our faith in Jesus Christ. In Baptism we died with Christ, were buried with him and rose with him (Rom. 6: 3-4). We, therefore, believe that through our faith in Christ we have inherited everlasting life with God (Jn. 6:35-40). This is hsown in practice by keeping His Commandments (Mk 10: 17-22). Jesus did not come to abolish these Commandments but rather to fulfill them (Mt 5:17).

During this time of Lent we confess that our Christian Faith is often lacking in the observance of God’s Commandments and good works. St. Paul the apostle reminds us that since we dread to sin throguh Baptism, we cannot continue to live in sin (Rm. 5: 1-11)

2.0 The Current Situation

2.1 We genuinely acknowledge the good efforts you as Christians are making in response to your Christian call to be light and salt in society. We do appreciate your contribution towards (he material, spiritual and moral development of the Church and our beloved nation. However, we cannot ignore some elements which need to be challenged by the Gospel if we are to be more faithful to and better witnesses of Christ our model. "Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you ..." (Rm 12: 2).

2. 1.0 Aspects that give Joy:

2.1.1 There are several developments in the Church and society which need to be commended and encouraged because they reflect the mind and will of God and point to the presence of the Spirit among us (Gal 5:22-26).

2.1.2 In the Church:

We notice, with a sense of pride, that our churches are often full with Christians of all ages: adults, the elderly, the youth and children (Acts 2:47); there is a significant participation in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are on the increase and the Church is becoming more and more mature through an ever increasing participation of the lay faithful in the life and development of the Church. The birth of Small Christian Communities is a source of great joy and sign of Christian maturity.

2.1.3 In Society:

As in the Church, so too in the society we notice a growing love for true freedom and democracy as well as a yearning for a deeper involvement and participation in socio-political and economic life. We can recognise a deep-seated resentment against violence and disunity which reflects our natural love for peace and tranquility. For many Malawians, and especially the youth, there is a growing aspiration for good education. Many of us Malawians are earnestly striving for a better quality of life by working hard

  1. in the production of crops for food or for cash,
  2. in private business,
  3. in looking for employment, and
  4. in a constant searching for better health and medical care.

2.1.4 We also observe among our people a keen interest in group participation and solidarity as evidenced by the growth of associations and NGO’s which are dedicated to good causes. We commend Government, political and civil leaders for initiating and implementing programmes that directed towards people's welfare and development: for instance the Poverty Alleviation Programme, Police Reform Programme and many others. There is also a genuine concern for justice and the rule of law and ever increasing promotion of women.

2.2.0 Aspects that raise Concerns:

There are, however, some developments which are a cause of some cone to us. And as Pastors we feel obliged to speak out.

2.2.1 In the Church:

We are concerned with some trends in the life of the Church. These include: the loss of a sense of sin (Is 5:20) coupled with a decreasing participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; pre-marital pregnancies the tendency to enter marriage outside the Church which is becoming more and more tolerated; instances of infidelity and unfaithfulness in religious, priestly and marital life especially those that cause great scandal to the community; low payment of employees, a general over-dependence on West donors for the life and basic needs of the local Church; misconception of freedom of Worship whereby some religious groups attack people of other faiths; misconception of authority as power as opposed to service (Mk. 10: 41-45).

2.2.2 In Society:

Some trends in society also affect us as Christians. These include: lust for earthly possessions and attachment to material things; a subtle acceptance of abortion and contraceptives which today are taken as a way of life. There is rampant sexual permissiveness, armed robbery, corruption in forms, misconception of democracy and freedom (e.g. of expression and association) as well as drunkenness and drug abuse.

There is a loss of good traditional values and customs; and the perpetuation of cultural practices and customs which contradict the teachings of Gospel. Abject poverty, partly caused by greed, persists in our society. There is a growing irreverence towards authority and elders. There is laziness, indifferentism, fatalism, hunger, unemployment, bad living conditions, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, rising inflation, cheating, false promises, slandering one another in public, deteriorating level of security, lack of adequate appreciation for women's contribution and some resistance to the genuine recognition of their rights and dignity. There are degrading working conditions for servants in houses and shops as well as the use (and abuse) of cheap and dehumanizing labour on the estates. It should also be noted that in our society we are not sensitive enough to the needs and rights of minority groups such as people with disabilities, the disadvantaged and children all of whom equally reflect God's image and Love.

2.3.0 We have highlighted only some trends both in the Church and in society. But we must try to identify and reflect on others during this period of Repentance. We urge you to uphold and-reinforce the positive aspects while you strive to uproot the evil trends that threaten the survival of our society and growth of the Kingdom of God which we, as Christians, proclaim. We urge you to remember what Pope John Paul II says about true freedom:

The beginning of freedom, ... is to be free from crimes ... such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. When once one is without these (and every Christian should be without), one begins to lift up one's head towards freedom... ". [2]

As long as these elements that negate the Gospel message persist among us, we are not really free. We should let the Gospel challenge the Church and society.

3.0 Underlying Trends

3.1 We, Your Bishops, would like to invite all the Catholic faithful, during this holy season of repentance, to reflect on some trends in our midst which we regard as being major factors underlying the present moral breakdown in our society. We want you to detect the evil influence they exert on us and how we could easily succumb to them.

Indeed "Keeping God's law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible". [3]

3.1.0 Materialism:

3.1.1 Among Malawians today, there is an uncontrolled hunger for riches and we are often tempted to satisfy it by using any means just or unjust. Indeed many seem to accept the wrong principle that, "the end justifies the means". Material satisfaction seems to be the number one aim these days. As a consequence, people are measured by what they have and not by who they are, that is, human beings made in the likeness and image of God (Gen. 1:27f). Materialism also blinds us to our need of God and to the needs of others in society; and it gives us a false sense of independence, security and self-sufficiency. We are often tempted to turn our gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols/riches (1 Th. 1: 9).

3.1.2 We would like to remind you that material possessions are not an end in themselves but rather a means by which we can glorify God. They are given by Him for the welfare not only of ''a few individuals or "a chosen few" but of all members of society. In this line, Pope John Paul 11 instructs us:

In economic matters, respect for human dignity requires the practice of the virtue of temperance, to moderate our attachment to the goods of this world; of the virtue of justice, to preserve our neighbour's rights and render what is his or her due; and of solidarity, following the Golden Rule and in keeping with the generosity of the Lord, who "though he was rich, yet for your sake ... became poor so that by his poverty you might become rich. [4]

3.1.3 We do well to remember that our customs and traditional values encouraged the sharing of goods and property and discouraged the untamed craving for and amassing of material possessions. Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia in Africa has underscored this point:

African cultures have an acute sense of solidarity and community life. In Africa it is unthinkable to celebrate a feast without the participation of the whole village. Indeed, community life in African societies expresses itself in the extended family. [5]

These values and customs safeguarded and ensured the provision of the essential needs of each and everyone in the community. We, therefore, urge you to preserve these traditional values.

3.2.0 Secularism:

3.2.1 Among people there is always some tendency to reject God, moral values and demands. This tendency is called secularism. If unchecked, this tendency can gradually spread and develop into gross indifferentism towards God and the loss of moral values and the sense of the sacred. When God is rejected, human beings themselves become the ultimate measure of all things. Good and Evil become subjective, and human dignity and life are compromised. As the Holy Father states:

Where God is denied and people live as though he did cot exist, or his commandments are cot taken into account, the dignity of the human person and the inviolability of human life also end up being rejected or compromised. [6]

3.2.2 In our society today, secularism seems to have taken deep root. Practically everything appears permissible - "everything goes". Some of us behave as if God does not exist and as if there are no objective and universally acceptable moral norms and values. Without God, each one becomes his/her own moral judge. Today Christians are often influenced to use worldly modes of thinking as the basis for their moral decisions on important issues that determine their lives. On this the Holy Father says:

In a widely dechristianized culture, the criteria employed by believers in making judgements and decisions often appear extraneous or even contrary to those of the Gospel. [7]

3.2.3 We invite you as Christians to promote once again the fear of God in our society. We ask you to re-dedicate the world to God by faithfully living out the Gospel and proclaiming it in word and deed (by keeping God's Commandments) and through the fruitful celebration of the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist, adoration of our Lord in the Eucharistic presence, devotion to the Sacred Heart, and making of the Way of the Cross. We call each and everyone to a serious dedication to common and personal prayer and to the daily reading of the Holy Bible.

We further invite you to sanctify the world by renewing your commitment to the manifold prayers and devotional practices of the Church such as: devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in particular the recitation of the Holy Rosary; devotion to the Saints, especially the holy men and women of the African continent; use of holy objects such as the Crucifix, medals, scapulars, holy water and pictures. Such practices Pope Paul VI names as "popular piety". He says:

If it is well oriented, it is rich in values. It manifests a thirst for God, which only the simple and poor can know. It makes people capable of generosity and sacrifice to the point of heroism, when it is a question of manifesting belief. It involves an acute awareness of profound attribute of God: fatherhood, providence, loving and constant presence. It engenders interior attitudes of patience, the sense of the Cross in daily life detachment, openness to others, devotion. By reason of these aspects, we readily call it "popular piety", that is, religion of the people, rather than religiosity. [8]

3.2.4 These practices and attitudes are not "old fashioned". When well used they certainly nourish our faith and remind us of God in the world; they influence our thinking, language and behaviour. We need once again to dedicate ourselves and the earth to the Creator and Redeemer. We should profess our Faith openly without shame or embarrassment, for if we are ashamed of Him here on earth, He will be ashamed of us before His Father (Mk. 8: 38).

3.3.0 Abject Poverty:


3.3.1 We understand abject poverty as a deprivation of the basic necessities, of life such as food, clothes and housing. Some of the causes for this state of affairs are laziness, drunkenness, greed, poor economic policies, natural disasters etc. As the AMECEA[9] Bishops put it:

All of us see that there is still so much poverty. Many people do not have access to the basic necessities of life. Causes of poverty are manifold. Some are beyond our control, like droughts and natural disasters. Others are external like terms of trade and international finance markets. Some have their root in human greed and lust for power: These lead to economic exploitation and corruption. [10]

Abject poverty is evil and contradicts the Gospel.

3.3.2 In the Old Testament, the poor are identified with widows, orphan and foreigners. Because of their vulnerable status these groups often fall victims to oppression, affliction and acts of social injustice by unscrupulous people (Nm 27: 1-11; Ex 22: 21-26).

3.3.3 Again in the Old Testament poverty was a scandal, a misfortune and even a curse resulting from sin (Ps 1: 4-6). It could also be a result of laziness (Prov 11: 16; 6: 6-11). On the other hand riches were viewed as a reward for being faithful to God and His commandments (Ps 1:1-3). Gradually, however, the Old Testament writers began to realize that poverty could often be a consequence of injustice, as Job puts it:

Fatherless children are robbed of their land, and poor people have their cloaks seized as security. From the towns came the groans of the dying and the gasp of the wounded crying for help (Job 24: 8-11).

In the New Testament Jesus' mission is to preach Good News to the poor (Lk 4: 18-19).

3.3.4 The situation in Malawi today is such that human beings made in God's image have been disfigured and reduced to people without proper dignity and respect (Am 2: 6f ). The majority of Malawians indeed live below acceptable standards. Poverty is leading many people to frustration and despair. As the same AMECEA Bishops again put it:

Extreme poverty has a negative effect on our society and makes people powerless and [live] without hope. Inflation and devaluation of currencies have reduced the buying power of our people... We cannot fail to notice that many, especially among our young people, are becoming bitter and despairing and have no hope for a better future. Their frustration is causing a growing social instability and is leading to social evils such as crime, drug abuse while putting great strain on family life. [11]

3.3.5 Abject poverty is indeed one of the contributing factors to prostitution so common today among men and women. We are concerned that today boys and girls have not been spared. Abject poverty has also contributed to the deteriorating level of security in our country evidenced by the rise in cases of murder, armed robbery and all sorts of hitherto unknown crimes which are increasingly making inroads into our society today.

The daily cry of our people from the torment of poverty reaches God's ears. [12] Abject poverty in our society is evil and a source of many evils. This is a very disturbing situation for us Christians. We are, therefore, called to double our efforts first to find out the reasons behind this pathetic situation and then propose the best means of solving this problem. We commend the Government with its Poverty Alleviation Programme and the various NGO's with their development oriented projects. The Christian Churches have played (and continue to play) a key role in development through development organs such as the Christian Service Committee (CSC) and its sister development desks in almost all the Christian Churches. The Church has also been associated with promoting education, health and more recently with AIDS sufferers and AIDS orphans.

3.3.6 At the same time some of us need spirit of sacrifice, that is, to be able to do without privileges in life for the sake of others who are not well off. Some among us have more than our share of the earth's blessings. We, as Christians, cannot afford to live in luxury while the majority of our people are languishing in misery. We should examine our life-style against that of the majority of our people. Let us contribute to our Churches' development efforts. However, today people demand that those entrusted with the administration of public funds be transparent and accountable. We, therefore, ask our development officers to be transparent and accountable in the administration of development funds.

3.4.0 Corruption:

3.4.1 As we pointed out in our 1996 Pastoral Letter, "Walking Together in Faith" corruption is indeed a big problem in Malawi:

Our new Malawi is becoming more stained by corruption “katangale” which takes many new forms today. No level of society is immune. Corruption is never for the betterment of all and it undermines the common good. [13]

3.4.2 We invite Christians, especially those of you in positions of influence to avoid corruption at all costs and to condemn it whenever and wherever you see it. Corruption is a sin and has drastic evil effects (1 Jn 3: 3-9). It is robbing our nation of scarce resources, and it is the poor and the less powerful, who are in the majority, who get punished by the effects of this deplorable crime (Am 5: 7-13). In the name of Christ, our Lord, say “NO” to corruption.

3.5.0 Laziness:

3.5.1 We Malawians, among other things, need to cultivate a strong work ethic if our country is to achieve sustainable development. Some people work very hard: both self-employed and those working for companies or Government. But there are too many among us who at times succumb to the temptation of laziness. The Apostle Paul has this message for us:

We urged you when we were with you not to let anyone eat if he refused, to work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living lives without any discipline, doing no work themselves but interfering with other people's. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we urge and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat (2 Thes. 3:10-12).

3.5.2 National pride can only come about if we, Malawians, work hard to develop our country. This equally means that “every person has a right to a just reward for work done, a wage which will ensure a dignified living for his or her family.” [14]

We call upon Christians in Government, NGO's and the Private Sector to work hard and to instill in the people a spirit of hard work and self-reliance. We must remember that work perfects us. We cannot continue to live under the impression that the duty of developing this country falls on donors and the Government alone. We need to tap from our own local human and material resources. We need to develop skills and confidence in our people. For a long time now some politicians, religious leaders and agents of charitable organisations, through false promises and unnecessary almsgiving, have weakened the will of the people to help themselves.

4.0 Other areas to be challenged by the Gospel

The following areas that are often accepted with little questioning need to be challenged by the Gospel message.

4.1.0 Some Unchristian Elements in Our Culture:


4. 1.1 We recognize and appreciate the values that traditional customs and practices still have in themselves and the role they still play in the stability of our society. The Synod talks about our “profound religious sense, a sense of the sacred, of the existence of God the Creator, and of a spiritual world", our sense of the reality of sin in its individual and social forms and the need for rites of purification and expiation, our respect for life and acute sense of solidarity and community. [15]

 

4.1.2 These values and others should continue to be upheld and improved upon. These already formed the seeds of the Gospel, "For man has in his heart a law written by God ..." (Rm 2: 14-16)[16]

However, we notice certain elements in some of our cultural customs and practices which go against our Christian values. We now turn to some of these customs and practices and their accompanying negative elements it the light of the Gospel demands.

4.2.0 "Chikamwini":

4.2.1 This is a type of marriage where a man marries and settles in the home of his wife and the children belong to the wife's family. Here we have a typical example whereby women have a greater role in the decision-making process in the family along with their relatives. This kind of set-up, in itself is not wrong at all. The experience of some, however, has been that the man is treated as if he does not belong or is a total stranger. He often has little say over the affairs of his own family. Instead, it is the uncle who make major decisions about the children with regard to marriage, education and others.

4.2.2 This feeling of being a foreigner and of having no authority can result in the man making a minimal contribution to the welfare of the family. And in worse circumstances, the man, often against his will, has been made to go back to his original village in cases of the sickness or death of his wife. On this indispensable role of the man in marriage the Vatican Council has this say:

The family is, in a sense, a school for human enrichment. But if it is to achieve the full flowering of its life and mission, the married couple must practice an affectionate sharing of thought and common deliberation as well as eager co-operation as parents in the children's upbringing. The active presence of the father is very important for their training ...[17]

4.2.3 We wish to remind you of Our Lord Jesus' own teaching on Christian marriage. “But from the beginning of creation God made them male a female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body”. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body (Mk 10: 5b-8). The man is therefore part and parcel of the family and should never be looked on as a stranger.

4.3.0 “Lobola” (bride wealth):

4.3.1 In marriages where "lobola" has to be paid, the woman marries and settles in the man's village and the children belong to the father and are named after him. Traditionally "lobola" cements the agreement between the two families. And other people have also understood it as a token of gratitude and as transfer of the rights over the children. Again, this in itself is very good and commendable because it has assisted to safeguard marriage stability over the years. The Old Testament gives testimony to this type of marriage (Gn 29: 15-30).

4.3.2 In some instances, however, there has been a misconception and abuse of this good custom. Exaggeration of the nature and amount of the “lobola” has given the wrong impression that the wife is bought. This has also proved as a stumbling block to young men who cannot afford such huge sums of money or numbers of cattle. This in turn has resulted in many unlawful marriages. Moreover, this has often left the wife with the feeling that she is the property of her husband and that she has very little say in the running of her own home and the family property.

4.4.0 “Chokolo” (Widow Inheritance):

4.4.1 Widow inheritance used to offer and ensure social protection for widows and orphans. The wife had a right to continue to live in the family of the deceased husband and to have the use of their common property and name. The intention was good (Ruth 3: 1-18).

4.4.2 Today, however, this practice is laden with many difficulties and dangers. There are occasions when the widow would want to be free to choose to remain single or to marry somebody outside the family of the deceased husband. So her freedom must be respected.

4.5.0 Polygamy:

4.5.1 Polygamy is one of the traditional customs and practices that have caused great pain to the Church. In the traditional context polygamy answered some felt needs in society such as:

  1. procreation in the case of the sterility of the first wife;

  2. a check on the man's promiscuity by providing him with a socially acceptable second wife, to care for his sexual needs while the first wife was nursing and breast feeding a baby or while they were living far apart due to employment.

  3. This also took care of women who could not marry due to the scarcity of men.

  4. It was also meant to share work responsibility and was often a sign of affluence and prestige.

Traditionally it is still an accepted form of marriage and polygamous households can live in peace and harmony.

4.5.2 This practice, however, seems to favour the man at the expense of the woman and it is in direct contradiction to the Christian teaching on marriage (Mk 10:1-12). It perpetuates the traditional belief that men are superior to women and the latter are considered as men's property. This belief is contrary to the biblical statement that both man and woman were made in God’s image and likeness and they have therefore equal dignity before God. As the Council Fathers put it, "The intimate union of marriage, as a mutual giving of two persons, an( the good of the children demand total fidelity from the spouses ant require an unbreakable unity between them." [18]

The Gospel is therefore proposing to us, as Christians, a new vision of life

4.6.0 The Labour Force

4.6.1 In general today the worker finds it extremely difficult to make ends meet from his/her salary or wage mainly due to the sudden and frequent rises in prices of commodities and services which far exceed the rises in salaries and wages.

Moreover, most Malawians depend on farming which has now become more difficult to manage because of the high cost of fertilizer. We seem to have left everything to the mercy of market forces in a country where the appropriate infrastructure seems to be non-existent. We must continue to search for ways of subsidizing this very important sector of our economy.

4.6.2 There is a particular section of the labour force which causes greatest concern to us. Most people who work in the homes, shops and especially on our estates are subjected to sub-human working conditions. These people are underpaid, but overworked. The whole concept of “tenancy” here in Malawi needs to be carefully looked at. It may well be another form "thangata", or, worse still, slavery. On this question of remuneration Pope John XXIII has this to say:

Moreover, in the economically developed countries, it not rarely happen that whilst great, or sometimes very great, remuneration is made for the performance of some small task or one of doubtful value, yet the diligently and profitable work of the whole classes of decent, hard-working risen receives a payment that is much too small, insufficient or in no way corresponding to their contribution to the good of the community, or to the profit of the undertakings in which they are engaged, or to the general national economy.

We judge it, therefore, to be our duty to re-affirm once against that the remuneration of work, just as it cannot be left entirely to the laws of the market; so neither can it be fixed arbitrarily; it must rather be determined according to justice and equity.[19]

We propose that Christians, who are employers, should re-examine this whole question of remuneration as a matter of justice and equity. We further request you to shun child labour which again is against Christian charity.

4.7.0 Family Planning

4.7.1 It has often been argued by some that the creation story mandates man and woman to irresponsibly multiply and fill the earth at all costs. We, however, believe that God cannot advocate irresponsible parenthood. Life is indeed sacred, a reflection of God's own life, and therefore deserves to be adequately cared for from the moment of conception to death. Hence, both Church and State have the obligation to encourage responsible parenthood, that is to say, parents should bring into the world children whom they are capable of caring for adequately and whom they can provide with the basic necessities of life. This caring should include adequate supervision avoiding circumstances that would lead to children being sexually abused in the home; and parents not knowing where the children are at any one moment. Parents have a duty to feed, clothe, educate and discipline their children (Eph. 6: 1-4).

4.7.2 Certainly, Christians and the State should be concerned about the relation/imbalance between a country's available resources and the number of people that should share them. Unfortunately here in Malawi there prevails a misleading philosophy that basically says "we are poor because we are too many". And we are made to believe that one of the key factors in the nation's development is a drastic reduction in the population growth rate. In order to achieve this, a number of artificial birth control techniques are propagated in the name of family planning. These include: abortions, contraceptives and sterilization. Family planning clinics have often served as centres of abortions for many women in a nation that professes to be God-fearing. Pope John Paul 11 states that: “I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being”. [20]

4.7.3 Furthermore the propagation and distribution of contraceptives, especially the condom, gives a false sense of security and reinforces the mistaken belief that sex is acceptable provided pregnancy can be avoided or you do not contract sexually transmitted diseases. This has resulted in sexual irresponsibility, promiscuity and untold suffering for many families, and painful health hazards for women. Moreover, this false philosophy has contributed a lot to today's breakdown of sexual morality, especially among the youth.

4.7.4 All this is pointing to the presence of a culture of death in our society. We Malawians, who once abhorred murder are today ready to kill without much remorse. This contradicts the African's natural respect for life as the Synod rightly observes:

The peoples of Africa respect the life which is conceived and born. They rejoice in this life. They reject the idea that it can be destroyed, even when the so-called progressive civilizations would lead them in this direction. And practices hostile to life are imposed on them by means of economic systems which serve the selfishness of the rich. [21]

4.7.5 It is, therefore, unfortunate that at times the aid we receive from donors is linked to family planning measures which are morally unacceptable for the majority of the citizens who profess Christ.

4.7.6 We, your Bishops, wish to agree that sex was designed by God for love and life. God put in the woman phases of infertility and fertility so that sex would not be only for procreation but also for strengthening the loving relationship between the spouses:

It is precisely this respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsible procreation, the use of natural methods of regulating fertility. From the scientific point of view, these methods are becoming more and more accurate and make it possible in practice to make choices in harmony with moral values. [22]

But no sexual act should deliberately exclude the possibility of life.

4.7.7 We also appeal to family planning promoters not to put on the radio in the name of sex-education indiscriminate sexual information some of which has already caused psychological and moral damage to our youth and children.

4.7.8 We, therefore, appeal to those responsible for family planning programmes in Malawi to allow genuine promoters of the natural family planning methods to participate fully in the so-called "kulera" (family planning) programmes on the national radio. We appeal to Christian families to make use of the natural family planning promoters available in all the seven dioceses in Malawi through the Family Life Apostolate of Malawi (FLAM).

4.7.9 We reiterate here that in the face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the best solution lies in abstinence and marital chastity or faithfulness. No family planning method can prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). We MUST therefore change our sexual habits.

We also observe here that the problem in Malawi is not basically over-population, but lack of development skills, illiteracy and ignorance. We, therefore commend the Free Primary Education Programme in as far as quality education is maintained.

4.8.0 Mass Media of Communication:

4.8.1 Appreciation:
For us in Malawi the mass media of Communication, which influence our lives, have increased, especially after the political referendum in June 1993 and the establishment of the democratic government in May, 1994. Within a short time we have seen changes in the field of communication media: new magazines, newspapers, video machines, satellite television, E-mail and the Internet. It took decades for Europe and America to move from print media to radio and television. For Malawi, however, we have moved from the "stone age" to the highest information technology within a few years.

4.8.2 We have seen new trends emerging in our society for better or for worse both in culture and life-style. And those who are influenced most are children and youth.

The Mass Media today constitute both a world of its own and a culture that needs to be evangelized as the Fathers of the African Synod rightly observe:

Today in fact, the mass media constitute not only a world but also a culture and civilisation. And it is also to this world that the Church is sent to bring the Good News of salvation. The heralds of the Gospel must therefore enter this world in order to allow themselves to be permeated by this new civilisation and culture for the purpose of learning how to make good use of them. [23]

4.8.3 Instead of bemoaning the evils that the Mass Media have supposedly brought about, we need training in the Mass Media to understand and appreciate them and know how to use them' properly in spreading the Gospel. This fact is again well underscored by the same Fathers of the African Synod who say:

Training in the use of the mass media is therefore a necessity not only for the preacher of the Gospel, who must master, among other things, the media style of communication but also for the reader, the listener and the viewer. Trained to understand this kind of communication, they must be able to make use of its contribution with discernment and a critical mind. [24]

4.8.4 Concerns:
The Press, therefore, plays (or should play) a vital role in society. Its presence is a tangible sign of freedom of expression which is one of the pillars of democracy. The press is a watchdog over a nation. Journalists have a duty to serve the truth with charity and not to stoop to defamation. As St John says, "the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32).

4.8.5 Unfortunately, what we often read' about is lots of misinformation or distortion of the truth. Many journalists write to please either the public or their employers. In the name of freedom of expression we sadly see our time-tested traditional values of respect towards elders, telling the truth in a diplomatic, constructive and polite manner and peaceful means of resolving differences being ignored. Today freedom of expression is wrongly. understood as saying and writing whatever you want irrespective of other people's feelings and rights.

4.8.6 We agree that authority is not above criticism. We do, however, believe that criticism should be proposed truthfully, reasonably and charitably. We invite Christian journalists to assist in the building of a new culture of political, social and religious tolerance and mutual respect. And the public communication media should be at the service of all Malawians. We deplore the tendency of manipulating communication media for anti-life propaganda.

4.8.7 We call upon Christian journalists to provide the kind of information that will directly or indirectly assist in material, economic, social and moral development of our nation. As Pope John Paul II puts it: "The means of social communication have become so important as to be for many the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behaviour as individuals, families and within society at large." [25]

4.8.8 On the other hand we are noticing an ever-increasing hostility towards the press from some quarters. Certain people have suffered reprisals for honestly expressing and living up to their convictions. Exposing injustices can often be misconstrued by those concerned as backing one or the other camp; revealing some evils in our society is sometimes seen as slandering the Government, the Opposition or their leadership; we are concerned that there is a monopoly of public means of mass communication especially the Radio. [26]

We need a sound, independent and responsible Press. We need to encourage, financially support and promote this kind of Press and not to suppress it.

4.8.9 Empowering the People
Democracy has, we hope, come to Malawi to stay, but the process is still incomplete as long as power does not filter down to the people at the grass roots. At present it is mainly the elite who participate in the democratic process. As Pope John Paul II observes:

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 both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. [27]

We therefore urge Christians to persuade your Members of Parliament to put in place the process for establishing councils at local level so as to empower people at the grassroots to make decisions about the political, socio-economic and material development of their areas.

4.8.10 Security Crisis
As already observed, linked with poverty and the misconception of democracy is the deteriorating level of security in our country. People are feeling very unsafe, peace is disturbed and possible investors are too scared to invest. We commend the efforts Government is already making (e.g. the introduction of community policing through the Police Reform Programme.) We hope that the Programme will continue to supplement the work of the Police.

At the same time we urge Christians to be security conscious and cooperate with the police in restoring and maintaining security in this country. Christians are conscience-bound to remove this evil in order to encourage moral, socio-economic and material development in our beloved country. We should continue to train our children to avoid behaviour that may lead them into criminal acts such as drinking, drugs, watching violent films or reading bad novels. We must create a crime-free Malawi for our children. We should also prevail on the law makers to amend sections of the Constitution that make it too easy for hard core criminals to get away with atrocious criminal acts.

4.9.0 The Dignity of Women

4.9.1 We, your Bishops, are against those elements in the Church and society that degrade a woman and disfigure her God-given dignity and equality alongside man. Women have a right to equal opportunities in education, training, employment, remuneration, inheritance and owning of property. Women are also often denied participation in the decision making process in the family, in the Church and in society. We strongly urge Christian men to change their attitude towards women. Women, too, have to transform their attitudes towards each other and towards men. Furthermore, men have to rid themselves of their traditional superiority complex. We ask that women be given adequate education and formation to prepare them to carry out their social responsibilities and careers from which traditional and modern society tend to exclude them without just reasons.

4.9.2 Indeed, we agree with the Holy Father that equality should, in practice, include:

Equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regards to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State. This is not only a matter of justice but also a necessity.[28]

4.9.3 In a special way, we condemn the painful practice of robbing widows and orphans of family property at the death of the husband. This is stealing and is against Christian charity. We should not forget that God is the defender of the widow and the orphan (Prov. 17: 5). With due respect to a person's Last Will, the widow and the orphans have priority rights over the property of the deceased. We appeal to you parents to ensure that you make your Last Will in good time to safeguard the security of orphans and widows/widowers. These Wills should be respected by all concerned parties when death finally comes.

These norms of justice must be observed not only for women but for all people and in particular, attention must be paid to the disadvantaged, the powerless and minority groups.

4.9.4 The Church appreciates the role of Religious Women and encourages their fuller participation in the life of the Church. We invite a frequent and healthy dialogue between superiors of religious congregations and the bishops in order to identify better ways of service in the local Church.

We ask you to respect priests and the religious, both men and women, who are in a special way consecrated to God and His service. At the same time we ask these to respect themselves and to be exemplary in their daily lives.

5.0 Come Back to Me

5.1.0 We have pointed out all these ills in the Church and in society today not in order to discourage and lead you to despair, but to remind you and ourselves that as Christians, we are the light and the salt of the world. Our vocation is not to conform to the world, but rather to transform the world by keeping God's Commandments. We feel that it is our duty, as your Pastors, to call you to repentance and to a deeper life in Christ. If you respond, those who see you will indeed give praise to your Father in Heaven (Mt. 5:16).

5.1.1 In this period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, therefore, God's invitation is very clear: “But now, now - it is Yahweh who speaks, come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning! Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn.” (Joel 2: 12-13).

5.1.2 The first step towards genuine repentance is to accept that sin exists in our society and that at one time or another we, ourselves, have fallen victim to it. We earnestly ask you to call sin by its name. In his Apostolic Exhortation "Reconciliation and Penance" of 1984, Pope John Paul II says: "Hence it is the reality of God that reveals and illustrates the mystery of man. It is, therefore, vain to hope that there will take root a sense of sin against human values if there is no sense of offence against God, namely: the true sense of sin."[29]

5.1.3 This is what Pope Pius XII meant when he lamented that the greatest sin of this century is the loss of sense of sin. [30]

Here the prophet warns us: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Is 5: 20).

According to St Paul the reward of sin is obvious: " Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers or sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6: 9-10).

5.1.4 We, therefore, appeal to you to restore a sense of sin in the face of abortion, rape, armed robbery, fornication, adultery, lying, bribery, witchcraft and drunkenness. The more sensitive and morally sound our conscience is, the more it feels and reacts to the presence of sin. The Second Vatican Council defines conscience “as the sanctuary of man, where he is alone with God whose voice echoes within him.” [31] The Council further states:

In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can, when necessary, speak to his heart more specifically: “do this, shun that...” [32]

5.1.5 Guilt can have its positive aspect: The sense of guilt forces a person to correction, to repentance. Both individually as well as collectively we need to accept that we have sinned for "to say that we have never sinned is to call God a liar and to show that his word is not in us" (1 Jn 1: 8-10). We need to turn to God for his healing power and reconciliation. Like the prodigal son we must rise and go back to our Father (Lk 15:18).

5.1.6 Once again we ask you to deepen your sacramental and devotional life in order to stand firm in your Faith. Ephesians equally applies to us today:

Finally grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power Put God's armour on so as to be able to resist the devil's tactics. For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens. That is why you must rely on God 's armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance when the worst happens, or have enough resources to hold your ground (Eph 6: 10-13).

As to the Sacrament of Penance, we urge priests to make known the times and places when and where the faithful can receive it.

5.1.7 We finally request you to recite the following prayer to St Michael the Archangel daily for your protection:

Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And do you, prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits, who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. AMEN.

5.1.8 We believe that our message of repentance and hope will deepen in all of us the experience of conversion and the desire to follow Christ more faithfully. This will prepare us for a more worthy celebration of Easter the feast of hope, the feast of the Risen Lord, our Saviour. As the Fathers of the Synod put it, "Christ our Hope is alive; We shall live!" [33]

The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

+ James Chiona Archbishop of Blantyre
+ Felix E Mkhori Bishop of Chikwawa
+ Alessandro Assolari Bishop of Mangochi
+ Allan Chamgwera Bishop of Zomba
+ Gervasio M. Chisendera Bishop of Dedza
+ Tarcisius G Ziyaye Bishop of Lilongwe
+ Joseph M Zuza Bishop of Mzuzu.

Notes

[1] Unless otherwise stated the biblical texts are taken from the Jerusalem Bible, Eyre &Spottiswoode, 1968, London.
[2] John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, August, 1993 no. 13
[3]Ibid. n. 102.
[4] Ibid. n. 100 (the underlining is ours)
[5] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, September, 1995, n. 43.
[6] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Evangelium Vitae, March, 1995 no. 96.
[7]Veritatis Splendor n. 88.
[8]Paul VI, Encyclical Letter, Evangelii Nuntiandi, December 1995 n. 48p 4.
[9]AMECEA stands for, “Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in East Africa.” These are Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Malawi, Somolia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
[10] Message of the AMECEA Bishops, August, 1995 Mangochi, n. 3.
[11] Ibidem. n.5.
[12] Ex. 3: 7-10; Jer. 20: 13; Job 34:28.
[13] Malawian Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, Walking together in Faith¸September, 1996 n.7.8.
[14] Malawian Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, Living Our Faith, Lent 1992 n.3 p2.
[15] Ecclesia in Africa n. 42.
[16] Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, n. 42.
[17] Ibid. n. 52.
[18] Ibid. n. 46.
[19] Pope John XXIII, Mater at Magister, May, 1961 p. 19.
[20] Evangelium Vitae, n. 62 p3.
[21] Ecclesia in Africa, n. 43 p1.
[22] Evangelium Vitae, n. 97 p2.
[23] Ecclesia in Africa, n. 71 p3.
[24] Ibidem, p4.
[25] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Redemptoris Missio, December 1990 n. 437 p8.
[26] Living Our Faith, n. 11 p2.
[27]John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Centesimus Annus, n. 46 p1.
[28] John Paul II, Letter to Women, June 1995, n.4.
[29] John Paul II, Reconciliation and Penance, December 1984 n. 18 p5.
[30] Pius XII, Radio Message to the United States National Catechetical Congress, Boston, October 1946.
[31] Gaudium et Spes n. 16.
[32] Ibidem.
[33] Ecclesia in Africa n. 13.