, 08 February, 2020 / 5:36 AM
In a collective statement issued at the conclusion of their three-day maiden consultative meeting, the Catholic Bishops in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe have outlined their short-term intention to remain within their respective regional Bishops’ conferences and the long-term one of delinking their national conferences to form a sub-regional Bishops’ Conference comprising the three Southern Africa nations.
The Bishops met in Zambia’s capital and considered, in their deliberations, “the common factors shared among the three countries such as: historical, cultural, political, religious and socio-economic.”
Announcing their plans going forward in the February 5 communique, the Bishops have stated, “The project envisions that in the short-term, Malawi and Zambia will continue to belong to the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA) and Zimbabwe to the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) respectively. However, in the long-term, the sub-region will be delinked from AMECEA and IMBISA respectively.”
In the statement, the Bishops have made known their collective resolution “to inform AMECEA and IMBISA about the intention of the three Episcopal Conferences to form a sub-regional conference while continuing to belong to AMECEA and IMBISA respectively.”
Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe have historical links considering that in 1953, the three southern Africa nations were brought together by their colonial masters under the Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia Federation. Though the federation came to an end in 1963, it left lasting impressions on the people of the region.
“There are many Malawians and Zambians for example in the mining and farming communities of Zimbabwe,” Catholic Church News Zimbabwe explains adding that, “on the social level, there have been inter-marriages among the people of the three countries, thereby creating lifelong ties.”
Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu who opened the Bishops’ consultative meeting on February 3 lauded the Church leaders for deciding to come together saying, “This initiative is commendable as we all aspire for unity of purpose, not only in the Church, but also among our people in the sub-Region.”
Canon Law allows for the establishment of the sub-regional conferences. However, satisfactory reasons must be offered to the Holy See for a request to be approved.
In this regard, the Bishops resolved “to mandate the Steering Committee to continue working toward the consolidation of the papers and compilation of other relevant documentation which will be reviewed by the General Assembly of the Bishops before being submitted to the Holy See.”
The Church leaders also resolved “to mandate the Steering Committee to come up with draft statutes, proposed operational structures, financing plan for the envisaged sub-regional conference.”
To foster the plans toward the sub-regional conference of Bishops resolved “to embrace the spirit of brotherhood both in good and difficult times through solidarity visits of representatives from sister Episcopal Conferences.”
In the communique signed by the three Presidents of the Bishops’ national conferences of Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the Prelates made known their resolution “to benefit from the already existing structures such as the Steering Committee, the Secretariat, etc, on rotational basis as a way of reducing costs.”
They are also expected convene every year in what they termed “an Annual General Assembly of the Bishops of the three countries.”
To advance the spirit of unity envisioned in a regional conference, the Bishops stated their plans to “enhance pastoral collaboration among the lay faithful, the consecrated and the clergy in the sub-region” and also “look at modalities of advancing relevant pastoral issues common to the sub-region, for instance in the formation of priests, the religious, the laity and education.”
Meanwhile, the Church leaders expressed their awareness of the national matters in the three countries including challenges and made known their collective “solidarity and spiritual proximity.”
“To the people of Zimbabwe who are experiencing continuing and chronic economic hardships and seemingly intractable governance conflicts; to the people of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe who are experiencing hunger, we call for emergency relief support to the affected population,” the Bishops stated.
The Church leaders added, “To victims of floods or drought in the sub-region as a result of climate change, we call upon all stakeholders to come up with programmatic actions to mitigate the negative effects of climate change.”
“To the people of Malawi who are currently going through socio political difficulties,” the Bishops said and continued, “We call upon them to maintain peace as relevant institutions are preparing for fresh elections.”
They continued, “To the people of Zambia, we call for dialogue, peace and reconciliation among political leaders and other key stakeholders.”
“To the people of Zambia and Malawi, where innocent people are losing their lives as a result of alleged ritual or witchcraft related deaths, we call for prayer and conversion of heart among our people. We also call upon relevant authorities to provide adequate security to the affected communities,” stated the Bishops.
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