ZAMBIA EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE
The Catholic Church in Zambia has remained steadfast in its position of fighting for the poor and the marginalised because this is the core of its prophetic role.
The Church’s position is adequately demonstrated by the widely disseminated and publicised Pastoral Letters and Pastoral Statements that the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) issues from time to time. When the Catholic Bishops speak out individually or collectively, for example, through these Letters and Statements, they are guided in doing so because of conviction based on Holy Scripture, the example of Jesus Christ and Catholic Social Teaching.
One suchChurch document “Ecclesia in Africa” urges the leadership of the Catholic Church in Africa to continue to be the “voice of the voiceless”. It is therefore not possible for the Bishops to abandon such a cardinal pastoral responsibility.
As recent, as 29 January 2013, the Zambian Catholic Bishops collectively released a Pastoral Letter “That they may have abundant life” in which they were quite forthright about matters of Governance in Zambia under the current (Patriotic Front) Government.
Furthermore, in their weekly homilies, during Sunday Mass in their respective Dioceses, the Bishops are always exhorting, encouraging and sometimes even condemning any injustices that come to their attention and urging all Zambians to live as Brothers and Sisters.
It is important, however, to note that in issuing Pastoral Letters and Pastoral Statements the ZEC ensures that it conducts detailed review and analysis of the prevailing situation or burning issues in order to prepare a Statement that is well-informed and meaningful. It would not help anyone for the Catholic Church to issue Statements that are superficial.
Moreover, in issuing Pastoral Letters and Statements, the ZEC has over the years also appreciated the fact that there is strength in unity and so from time to time the Bishops collectively meet to discuss the state of the nation. When there is need, they Bishops engage leaders of other Church mother bodies.
The ZEC has noted with concern that in recent weeks, there have been accusations and attacks alleging that the Catholic Church in Zambia has abandoned its role of speaking for the voiceless, the poor and marginalised on the wrong public perception that the Church is loyal to or favours the Patriotic Front and its leadership.
The Catholic Church in Zambia, as elsewhere in the world, is made up of members that belong to diverse political party affiliations. Therefore, ZEC, in its official capacity, does not and cannot champion any single political candidate even if that candidate were a faithful son of the Church. In this regard, any hint of partisan politics by a priest or a Bishop through the media or from the pulpit is wrong. It is wrong because the God whom we preach about and serve welcomes everyone in spite of political affiliations.
There is ample evidence to attest that the leadership of the Catholic Church in Zambia has always taken seriously its prophetic role and has categorically spoken out against any unfair actions and unacceptable policies of government. The commitment of the Church leadership to issues of justice and peace remains unchanged from the time Catholic Bishops of this country started speaking out collectively and publicly in 1953.
Since then, the country has had different political parties in government – beginning with the colonial government, the Church’s stance whether against or in favour of government policies has been unequivocal, always pro-poor; always for the marginalised and the vulnerable. The commitment of the Catholic Church to the Zambian people cannot now change and will not change because solidarity with the powerless and voiceless is what it means to be Christian.
In view of the foregoing, the ZEC would like to reassure all Zambians that it will continue to side with the poor and the voiceless in order to fight for improved or better living conditions. The Catholic Church in Zambia remains determined to see that Zambia continues to be an oasis of peace and violence is not tolerated, and where tenets of sound democratic governance and human rights are religiously upheld. The ZEC will remain vigilant and speak out against any injustices perpetrated by any quarter of the society.
Fr. Paul Samasumo