, 21 March, 2020 / 3:47 AM
A Catholic Bishop in Zambia has died just two days after he issued a statement with directives on COVID-19, which included the “indefinite closure of all Major Seminaries” in the Southern Africa nation.
Zambian Bishop Justin Mulenga, 65, passed on Friday, March 20 in his country’s capital, Lusaka, a Church official in Zambia announced in a statement seen by ACI Africa, revealing, in a separate message, that the late Bishop had succumbed to a heart-and-kidneys-related illness.
“I write to inform you of the passing on of Rt. Rev. Justin Mulenga, until today, Bishop of Mpika Diocese. He died early this morning at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), in Lusaka, Zambia,” the Secretary General of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), Fr. Cleophas Lungu wrote Friday, March 20.
“He travelled to Lusaka on Monday. Tuesday, he signed the papers and started his normal check-ups. On Wednesday, he was admitted and today he is no more,” Fr. Lungu stated in a separate message seen by ACI Africa, adding that the late Bishop Mulenga was aware of his two body organs’ complications.
“He has been unwell and was in hospital doing some medical tests. (Bishop Mulenga) had a heart and kidneys complications,” Fr. Lungu stated, adding that the late Bishop “was aware and managing his heart problem; (he) even had treatment in German.”
In a statement dated March 17, the late Bishop Mulenga, addressing Rectors, members of staff and students of Major Seminaries in Zambia, announced the closure of Seminaries in line with the government directives.
“The Government of the Republic of Zambia has just announced the indefinite closure of all Schools, Colleges and Universities this Friday 20th March, 2020 due to the global outbreak of COVID-19,” Bishop Mulenga stated.
He added in reference to the government’s directives to close learning institutions, “It is for this reason that I want to officially communicate to you the indefinite closure of all Major Seminaries ... Kindly, heed to this directive and make all necessary arrangements for the departure of all students. The completion of the second semester will resume as soon as the outbreak is contained. This is a very sad development.”
“It is however, my prayer and hope that this outbreak will be contained in the nearest time possible,” Bishop Mulenga further stated in his capacity as ZCCB’s Director of Seminaries.
A week ago, the Bishop had celebrated his fourth Episcopal Anniversary, having been ordained the second Local Ordinary of Zambia’s Mpika on March 12, 2016.
He was ordained and incardinated as a priest for Zambia’s Archdiocese of Kasama on July 18, 1993 where he served as a Parish Priest, Procurator General and Pastoral Coordinator before becoming a Bishop.
Born in Kabwe, within the central Province of Zambia, the family of the late Bishop moved to Rosa Mission within the Archdiocese of Kasama, where he began his formal education.
He obtained a Diploma in Accountancy and Business Studies from the Evelyn Hone College, Lusaka in 1979.
He was enrolled at the Pontifical Beda College in Rome in 1989, for his studies towards priesthood.
The late Bishop is being eulogized as a legend, a generous and “a great fearless soul,” who many say loved his people and stood for his people regardless of the barriers of life.
“The late Bishop was a generous servant of God who was tireless in spearheading God’s work in Zambia. The nation has lost a true servant of God,” Zambia’s President George Chagwa Lungu eulogized Friday, March 20.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the Catholic Church and family as they mourn the beloved Bishop,” President Lungu said and added, “It is my prayer that we may all find comfort during this period of intense sadness.”
Facebook user, Patrick Kaleng'a described the late Bishop as “simply a great fearless soul; he loved his people and stood for his people regardless of the barriers of life.”
“What could have gone wrong?” Angie Simfukwe probed in disbelief and added, “Monday everything was okay with you...what could have gone wrong my Bishop, I can't just comprehend.”
“May his soul rest in peace... As Catholics and the country at large, we have lost a legend,” Facebook user, Majorie Elias said.
“Very sad news. My condolences to the family, the community of the Diocese of Mpika and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops. Rest in Peace my dearest friend and Reverend Bishop,” mourned Cheepa Costa.
On behalf of the Bishops in Zambia, ZCCB President “has conveyed his deepest condolences to the clergy, religious, bereaved family and the lay faithful in the Catholic Diocese of Mpika.”
The Church leader assured all the bereaved “the closeness and fervent prayers of members of the Bishops’ Conference and indeed, the entire Catholic Church in Zambia,” the Bishops’ March 20 statement reads and concludes, “Let us continue to pray for the repose of his soul.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa