Church in Malawi Thriving Above Harmful Culture, Challenging Christian-Muslim Marriages

Mass at Don Bosco Parish of Malawi's Archdiocese of Lilongwe. Credit: Fr. Joseph Czerwinski

Baptisms at Don Bosco Parish of Malawi’s Archdiocese of Lilongwe are held every second month. Fr. Joseph Czerwinski, the Priest in Charge of the Parish has said that the ceremony cannot be held on an annual basis because then, the number of those being baptized would be too large to handle.

Large numbers are seen during First Holy Communion and Confirmation, Fr. Czerwinski has said in an interview with ACI Africa, adding that over 500 children from the 15 outstations of the parish received their first Holy Communion at a single celebration last year.

“Vocations here are also booming. To me, this is a sign of a growing Church,” the Polish member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) said in the August 25 interview. 

He noted that that in Malawi, the Church is growing against all odds, including poverty, retrogressive and harmful cultures, as well as problematic Christian-Muslim marriages.

The challenging marriages, though not threatening “yet”, are seen in the tendency for Muslim men to marry Christian women, after which the women are sent packing, and forced to leave their children behind, he explained.


“Marriages between Christian ladies and Muslim men are bringing a lot of confusion, pain and suffering. I have witnessed incidents where such marriages don't end well,” the SDB Priest said.

He continued, “The marriage starts off well with promises of love. Sometimes, the ladies are allowed to marry in Church. Trouble starts after the woman gives birth to a certain number of children, to the satisfaction of her husband. After that, the woman is sent away and forced to leave her children with their Muslim father.”

Fr. Czerwinski told ACI Africa that the Church is trying to discourage such problematic marriages, and added, “But it is not easy.”

Apart from the Islamist agenda seen in the chaotic marriages, Christianity in Malawi is also in competition with retrogressive cultures which families, especially in rural stations of the parish, still hold fast onto.

Fr. Czerwinski shared about the Nyau secretive society of the Chewa people in Malawi, which forbids members from associating with Christianity. “This is a men’s group and it has very deep traditions. Members can’t be Christians. It leads to separations in families when a Christian woman marries someone belonging to the secretive society.”

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SDB members, who are evangelizing communities in Lilongwe, and the outskirts of the capital city of Malawi also grapple with balancing the varying pastoral needs of the city and rural parish dwellers.

“The lifestyle of city dwellers is different from that of rural dwellers. While town dwellers work in offices, those in villages are mainly farmers and this makes it challenging for us to come up with a uniform pastoral program for them,” he says.

The SDB Priest who has ministered in Malawi for over a decade, and has been Parish Priest for over a year lauds the work of missionaries in the Southern African country, where the Catholic Church is “the most organized.”

“The population here is predominantly Christian,” he said of religiosity in the country where 77 percent of the population is Christian and 13 percent Muslim. At 17 percent, the Catholic Church is the biggest of the numerous Christian denominations in the country.

The Catholic Church in Malawi is very vibrant, Fr. Czerwinski said, and explained, “The people are very committed and very prayerful. They have very beautiful expressions of their faith. Many receive Holy Communion.”


“The Liturgical dancers and the choir make liturgical celebrations very colorful. Everyone takes part in the Liturgy”, he told ACI Africa during the August 25 interview, adding that Small Christian Communities (SCCs) which are very strong in Malawi further strengthen the people’s faith.

At Don Bosco Parish alone, there are over 60 SCCs, which keep the parish running.

Additionally, the parish has 16 Catholic lay groups, including Catholic Women Organization (CWO), Catholic Men Organization (CMO), Youth Group, the Legion of Mary, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), and the Catholic Family Movement.

Others are Atumiki Achifundo, a group that works with the poor people in the Parish Development Committee, St Anna, Franciscan 3rd Order, Marriage Encounter, Catholic Professional Teachers Committee, Altar Boys, and Rosary Group. 

This large and vibrant parish community is currently served by three Priests and three full time Catechists.

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The Salesians of Don Bosco came to Lilongwe in 1995 and began work in the densely populated part of Lilongwe called Area 23.

After two years the Don Bosco Parish was officially opened in 1996 by the late Archbishop Tarcisius Gervazio Ziyaye of Lilongwe.

Presently, the Parish has the population of about 16,000-18,000 Christians of which 4,000 are from the outstations.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.