Malawi’s Catholic Bishops to Engage Pope Francis amid Country’s Cyclone Devastation

Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM). Credit: ECM

Members of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) are making their periodic visit to the Holy See, during which they are to pray at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and have an audience with Pope Francis on the status of the people of God in the Southeastern African nation and “their ecclesial mission”.

The Ad Limina visit of the Catholic Bishops in Malawi between March 27 and April 3 comes at a time when the country is battling the devastating humanitarian crisis that was caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddywhich hit the country, reportedly leaving over 500 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

In a Press Statement dated Monday, March 27 ECM Secretary General says that the Catholic Bishops were already at the Vatican ahead of their engagement with the Holy Father.

Fr. Alfred Chaima goes on to present the schedule of ECM members at the Holy See, including their planned visits to various Vatican Dicasteries, as well as their scheduled prayers at various holy sites.

“The Bishops will have an audience with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and brief him on the state of the Catholic Church in Malawi over the past five years,” Fr. Chaima says. 


In a further announcement, the ECM members say that they had spent time praying for the various needs of the people of God in Malawi, the needs of Malawi as a nation “and particularly for the victims of cyclone Freddy that hit and has devastated the Southern part of Malawi.”

A March 25 update provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that Cyclone Freddy, which hit Malawi on March 12, has left 511 reported deaths and at least 1 724 others injured.

Additionally, 563,771 people have been displaced and are currently housed in some 577 camps that have sprung up in areas affected by the cyclone, which also ravaged Mozambique and Madagascar.

With over 500 people reported still missing, there are fears that the death toll in the aftermath of the cyclone could go up.

According to the WHO March 25 update, most of the people affected by the cyclone are seeking shelter in relatives’ houses.

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The heavy downpours have also destroyed infrastructure in Malawi, with many areas hosting victims remaining inaccessible.

“Nearly 286,000 people are currently in areas only accessible by air in 13 Traditional Authorities (TAs), while a further 11 TAs have areas that are cut-off and isolated but the number of people in them is not currently known,” reads the WHO report.

The report further indicates that “Freddy’s passage has significantly impacted people’s livelihoods, with over 285,500 livestock affected, including 194,584 dead and 90,955 injured, according to reports from the Agriculture Sector on 22 March.”

“The floods also damaged at least 204,833 hectares of crops, with 84,930 hectares submerged and 119,930 hectares washed away,” says WHO.

The Cyclone Freddy devastation came at a time when people in parts of Southern Malawi were already facing high levels of food insecurity, occasioned by crop production deficits, high prices for food and other commodities, high agricultural input prices, and high fuel and transportation costs.


Pope Francis has expressed his prayerful solidarity with victims of the cyclone, saying, “I am close to the people of Malawi who have been hit, in recent days, by a very strong cyclone.”

“I pray for the deceased, the injured, the displaced,” the Holy Father said on March 15, during his General Audience, adding, “May the Lord support the families and communities most tried by this calamity.”

Earlier, on March 14, ECM members appealed for aid to assist victims of what has been described as the longest-lived cyclone on record. 

The Catholic Bishops in Malawi asked all people of goodwill “to stand and feel with the victims of this devastating cyclone and immediately start to donate whatever they can, in form of money and in kind, to help the victims who have been affected and are suffering from the effects of the cyclone.”

Their appeal was amplified by the Catholic Bishops in the region under the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) who insisted that the situation in the countries affected by the cyclone was bad.

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“Even though the cyclone has weakened, the situation is bad as lack of proper shelter and poor sanitation exposes the survivors to diseases, especially cholera, and malaria,” the AMECEA Bishops said on March 20.

They added, “As we continue to pray for the victims, in the spirit of solidarity as AMECEA, let us reach out to our suffering brothers and sisters in Malawi who need our assistance.”

Meanwhile, Fr. Chaima has appealed to the people of God in Malawi to offer special prayers for the ECM members’ Ad Limina visit, adding that Malawi’s Catholic Bishops are set to have an engagement with Pope Francis on Saturday, April 1.

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.