The current leadership of the Catholic Church
* The 1992 Pastoral Letter encouraged democracy, the rule of law, participatory government, transparency, accountability and the fight against corruption
* The Church as part of its mission is called to comment on and participate in matters that affect human beings
* Are we any different and any better today as regards this caution? No. We are not. We are even worse
* What is claimed to be a developmental agenda in party manifestos and campaign rhetoric slogans is all but empty speeches
By Duncan Mlanjira
The 2022 Pastoral Letter Catholic Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi Electoral celebrates that was read today, March 6, in the celebration of Lent, commemorates the 30th anniversary of ‘Living Our Faith’ document that was authored in 1992.
The March 8, 1992 Pastoral Letter the Bishops wrote criticised former President late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s one party state under Malawi Congress Party (MCP) that eventually culminated into the country in a multi-party democracy.
Under ‘New Ills in our Country’, the Bishops reminded the nation that the 1992 Pastoral Letter “encouraged democracy, the rule of law, participatory government, transparency, accountability and the fight against corruption among other matters”.
On the dignity of the human person and the unity of humankind, today’s document took cognizance that the “Catholic Bishops in 1992 wrote about how man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1, 26) and how every person is sacred”.
“They called for the unity of the human race and for institutions to respect the dignity of every human being.
“As we reflect today, we observe that this call is as relevant and necessary as it was then. The present environment, in which the people of Malawi live, can be described as very dehumanizing.
“Vast numbers of men, women and children are today, like Lazarus in the Gospel (Luke 16, 19-31), languishing in abject poverty while wealth and luxury are enjoyed by a few who are unconcerned about these dehumanizing conditions of the majority.”
The Church and Society
“The Catholic Bishops in 1992 pointed out how the Church as part of its mission is called to comment on and participate in matters that affect human beings. They thanked the government of that time for providing an atmosphere where peace and stability prevailed.
“They strongly affirmed that it would be a failure on their part if they kept silent on matters which affected the day to day lives of human beings in the situation prevailing at that time.
“We can now echo again the same words spoken by our predecessors. Malawi is a nation that has generally enjoyed peace. We thank God for that — with the advent of multiparty political dispensation, we see that an attempt has been made to grant the populace a certain degree of freedom.
“However, it must be pointed out that here and there, we seem to be regressing and going back to where we were. It is even evident today that some groups and cliques of people are not comfortable granting freedom to the Church to comment on social matters that affect the lives of Malawians.
“Unfortunately, we might even say, and sadly so, attempts are continuously been made to muzzle the voice of the Church.
The aspiration to greater equality and unity
“The Catholic Bishops of 1992 bemoaned the following: the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the reality of many workers’ failure to buy basic necessities because their meagre wages rendered them unable to afford minimal material needs, the prevailing existence of bribery, nepotism, tribalism, apartheid, regionalism and divisions.
“They then called on Malawians to embrace good values which foster justice, equality and unity. It is sad, that a generation later, we are grappling with the same vices.
“In actual fact, it is regrettable that these vices, which the Catholic Bishops condemned three decades ago, have become even more deeply engrained and are tearing our society and our nation apart, while keeping the vast majority in grinding poverty.
“If we are not careful as a nation, we are heading towards social disaster. Hence there is an urgent need for every Malawian, starting with our political leaders, to stand up strongly and courageously against these vices and to choose to amend and correct the situation by implementing the values of equality, justice and unity.
“This is the only way that we Malawians can experience true development that benefits all citizens. Sadly, at present it appears that the distribution of national resources, development projects and influential political positions are not based on merit and competence but on nepotism, regionalism, tribalism and cronyism. This will not take this country anywhere near where it can be.
The right to an adequate education
“The Pastoral Letter of 1992 then addressed the need for government to pay attention to providing quality education for its youth. It stressed that education should be holistic, should help the student acquire values such as respect for elders, promote creativity in the pupil, enable the student to appreciate his or her cultural heritage, help the student develop training and skills that would allow him or her to earn a decent living in the future.
“In short such education should seek excellence while aiming at providing education for everyone. Honestly speaking, if we examine where we find ourselves today, it is sad to find and admit that we are far from the aspirations of our fore-fathers.
“The education system and facilities have been deteriorating over the years since the ushering in of multiparty dispensation. The standards and facilities of education are deplorable especially for the poor people in rural areas. It is one of the most neglected sectors of development.
“If nothing is done, the future of this nation is doomed. Unfortunately governments and the majority of political leaders seem unwilling to take seriously this project of overhauling the education system and injecting resources into it.
“This trend is very worrisome and must not be allowed to continue. To continue providing good quality education for the sons and daughters of the rich minority while neglecting the vast numbers from poor families is a very dangerous path for this country.
“This is a concrete example of inequality and injustice that our national education system is perpetuating. This must be addressed forthwith. We look forward to a day when children from both rich and poor families receive quality education under one roof and can be provided with equal opportunities to excel in life.
“To this end the Church is always willing to partner with Government to improve the education standards of the nation.
Adequate health services for all
“In the quest to move towards equality for citizens, the Catholic Bishops in 1992 addressed the state of the health services in the country. Under this discussion, they acknowledged the success of the Primary Health Care that the Government had initiated.
“They also recognized the part that the Church was playing in supporting government efforts. At the same time, they drew the attention of the nation to the severe difficulties faced in areas such as overcrowding, shortage of medical personnel, inadequate care given to the sick, inequality in medical treatment and the unfortunate situation of drug theft in health facilities and at central stores.
“We find ourselves in a similar defective situation today. Our health care system is almost on its knees. Most of our health facilities are in a dilapidated condition. The doctor-patient ratio is well below the expected standards.
“Our health centres, clinics and hospitals are running without adequate personnel and without sufficient medicines. Stealing of drugs and medicines has become more rather than less widespread. Institutions which are meant to restore hope and health frequently let people down leaving them helpless, sad and in despair.
“We cannot make any meaningful progress as a nation if we continue to neglect this very important and vital sector. Instead of continued overdependence on referral hospitals abroad where only a few rich and politically connected people can access specialist services, deliberate efforts should be made to develop a health care system in this country which will address the needs of all Malawians regardless of their status in society.
“There is also need to motivate health service providers to instil in them passion for their vocation and professionalism in their work. Mishandling and abuse of patients by health care providers must also be urgently addressed.
“The Catholic Bishops in 1992 drew attention to the reality of the various diseases in our country and in particular to the reality of HIV/AIDS. While great strides have been made in the care and treatment of people with HIV/AIDS, this disease needs continued attention and resources.
“Today we are faced with the further challenge of the CoVID-19 pandemic. We join with Government in the call to take seriously the preventative measures as prescribed by the Ministry of Health.
We renew our call to everyone to go and get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones from the spread of COVID-19. Let us take seriously the words of Pope Francis: “getting vaccinated is a sign of charity” (18th August 2021).
Participation of all in public life
“Quoting the Scriptures, the Catholic Bishops in 1992 reminded Malawians how every person is endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are meant to benefit everyone in the community (Eph. 4, 7-16; 1 Pet. 4, 10-11).
“We, your Bishops, want to restate the implications of this principle. The people in authority and government need to create an environment where it is possible for all to participate in decision making and the building up of society.
“Apart from citizens casting their vote and the three arms of government doing their part, we feel that more deliberate policies and initiatives must be created. This is to allow the citizenry to participate fully in decision making in matters that concern them and matters that generally affect their lives.
“Decentralization should not just be about resources but also about decision-making processes. People must be fully involved in choosing development projects needed in their areas.
“There should be transparency at all levels including villages/communities on how funds meant for development are used.
“Following the Catholic Bishops of 1992 we call on all citizens to take part in public life. Malawians should not delegate their responsibility to build this nation — they must not hand over their responsibility to build this nation to a few powerful and influential people.
“Citizens should wake up and hold accountable anyone they entrust with public office and authority. They have the right and responsibility to demand what is due to them so that they receive better services from those who hold public office on their behalf.
Freedom of expression and association
“While applauding the government for protecting freedom of worship, the Catholic Bishops in 1992 drew attention to the situation that restricted freedom of expression and association.
“They named academic freedom restrictions, restrictions on exposing the ills of society, the monopoly of media by the state, censorship preventing the expression of dissenting views and indeed many other related restrictions.
“We may ask where are we now with regard to these freedoms three decades down the line? While we recognize the opening of airwaves and more media channel outlets including social media, we still have a long way to go.
“The Access to Information Law is yet to be operationalized fully and enjoyed by all Malawians. We also note with concern that dissenting voices in our society are muted through the application of archaic and draconian laws.
“This is not in tandem with the current multiparty democracy which guarantees freedom of expression even when it is critical of government policies and actions. Government ministries, agencies and departments mandated to oversee this must ensure that legal freedom of expression and association for every citizen is guaranteed.
The truth will set you free
“The Catholic Bishops in 1992 invited Malawians to embrace truth and abide by Christ’s proclamation on the same. They clearly warned how evading truth and feeding Malawians with lies, empty slogans and political propaganda creates a dangerous atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust.
“Let us look around. Are we any different and any better today as regards this caution? No. We are not. We are even worse. What is claimed to be a developmental agenda in party manifestos and campaign rhetoric slogans is all but empty speeches.
“Malawians are now realizing that campaign promises are only a way to deceive the masses. It is now becoming a culture to manipulate the masses by telling them what pleases their ears and placates them in the short- term.
“In this way politicians obtain the ticket to rule and ascend to positions of authority. We cannot continue in this way. Malawians must look for leaders who are honest and truthful and who mean what they say.
“Such leaders can steer this nation to prosperity for all through systems of effective service delivery and authentic development. Empty promises couched in beautiful speeches must stop.”
“We place these reflections under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the patronage of Mary, Queen of Malawi and of Africa.
Signed by Most Reverend George Tambala (President, Archbishop of Lilongwe and Apostolic Administrator of Zomba); Right Reverend Montfort Stima (Vice-President and Bishop of Mangochi); Most Reverend Thomas Msusa (Blantyre); Right Reverend Martin Mtumbuka (Karonga); Right Reverend Peter Musikuwa (Chikwawa); Right Reverend John Ryan (Mzuzu) and Right Reverend Peter Chifukwa (Dedza).