As Zambia starts the journey towards next year’s 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections, the Bishop of Mongu Diocese, Evans Chinyemba, OMI has issued a plea to the Catholic lay faithful to take up their duties and responsibilities in the political sphere.
“As Catholics, you the lay faithful have a duty to contribute fully to the shaping of a just society and bring about sanity to the politics of our country. You have a role to play in the transformation of how we do our politics from character assassination to issue-based politics and from politics of insults and violence to politics that inspire. As laity you should be the first ones to speak out when national resources are being misused even by any government in which you are serving. Here is when St. Thomas More becomes your model. If you cannot speak as a concerned laity, who else will speak? When power is misused and you remain silent, know that you are neglecting your duty as a lay faithful. When attempts to silence masses are made and you remain mute, you as laity neglect your duty as a baptised person who is missioned. To remain silent is to have sold one’s conscience,” Bishops Chinyemba said.
Below is a the full text of Bishop Chinyemba’s letter to the parishioners of Mongu Diocese.
CATHOLIC LAY FAITHFUL AND THEIR PARTICIPATION IN THE POLITICAL LIFE OF A COUNTRY
Banabahesu,(Brothers and Sisters)
This month’s reflection focuses on the Catholic lay faithful and their involvement in the political life of the country. The reflection is a follow-up on some thoughts that I have shared with you in the past few months. I feel this topic is as important today as it has been in the past. You, our laity have a duty and responsibility to be actively involved in governance issues of your local communities and of your country. In order to explain this, my first thought goes to St. Thomas More, a martyr and patron saint of those involved in politics.
The example of Saint Thomas More
Every year on 22 June, the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Thomas More, an English martyr. He was canonized in 1935. On 31 October 2000, Pope Saint John Paul II declared St. Thomas More patron saint of statesmen, politicians and lawyers.
St. Thomas More was born in 1478 in London. He studied law at Oxford University and in London itself. He also had keen interest in the study of culture, theology and classical literature. Not only was More a scholar but he also practiced his Catholic faith with an amazing deep conviction. Nothing could ever convince More to abandon his faith.
St. More was no ordinary person. He was a scholar, a respected person in law, a parliamentarian and a public figure during the reign of King Henry VII and also under King Henry VIII. More rose to the rank of speaker of the House of Commons. He was a devoted husband, a father and a Catholic of great humility.
St. Thomas More was successful in his life yet he remained firmly grounded in his faith. He never allowed power and reputation to go to his head or allow himself to be compromised. He attended daily Mass and was very diligent in his prayer life. He is known to have written the following words, “Reputation, honour, fame, what is all that but a breath of air from another person’s mouth, no sooner spoken but gone? Thus whoever finds his delight in them is feeding on wind.” Moved by his faith, More opposed King Henry VIII’s desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Ignoring all objections, King Henry VIII disregarded Catholic Church teaching and proceeded to marry Anne.
Seeing all of this, Thomas More discreetly resigned from his office as an official of the King’s government. In spite of his resignation from office, More was accused of opposing King Henry’s break with the Church of Rome. His refusal to swear to King Henry VIII’s Act of Succession and the Oath of Supremacy was seen as basically refusing to accept Henry as new head of the Church of England. More was sent to the Tower of London in 1534. He was found guilty of treason and beheaded on 6 July 1535. He left behind these final words as he lay his head on the block for the executioner: “I die in and for the faith of the Holy Catholic Church. Pray for me in this world and I shall pray for you in that world. Pray for the king that it please God to send him good counsellors. I die as the king’s true servant, but God’s first.” He laid down his life in order to obey his conscience and what he believed in. Here is the man who was known for these words, ‘When a statesman forsakes his own private conscience for the sake of his public duty he leads his country by a short road to chaos’ becoming our example in faith. St Thomas More, a public worker, a Catholic, a family person is the declared patron of statesmen, lawyers and politicians.
Our Catholic lay faithful in Zambia today
Banabahesu, the laity in Zambia are the majority in our Church. They are more than all the priests and religious put together. Some of our Catholic laity are, or have, in the past held prominent positions in government.
Dear brothers and Sisters, the Church has addressed the issue of politics and the Church through various encyclicals. In these documents the Church has been clear as to spell out the roles, duties and responsibilities of the lay faithful in the political sphere. Let me cite one of these documents. In 1988, Pope John Paul II released a Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, ‘ChristifidelesLaici’ (On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful) in which among other topics was the role of the Laity in public life. Addressing the laity the Holy Father said, “WIn order to achieve their task directed to the Christian animation of the temporal order, in the sense of serving persons and society, the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in ‘public life,’ that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas…” (No 42). As Catholics, you the lay faithful have a duty to contribute fully to the shaping of a just society and bring about sanity to the politics of our country. You have a role to play in the transformation of how we do our politics from character assassination to issue-based politics and from politics of insults and violence to politics that inspire. As laity you should be the first ones to speak out when national resources are being misused even by any government in which you are serving. Here is when St. Thomas More becomes your model. If you cannot speak as a concerned laity, who else will speak? When power is misused and you remain silent, know that you are neglecting your duty as lay faithful. When attempts to silence masses are made and you remain mute, you as laity you neglect your duty as a baptised person who is missioned. To remain silent is to have sold one’s conscience.
Inspired by the Gospel, and your involvement in politics, you have the duty to shed light on issues of justice, corruption, quality leadership, economic well-being, housing, education, health care, security, issues of the youths and many other interventions that will help in building a better Zambia. This better Zambia can only be achieved if you the laity understand your involvement and the reason why you are in politics. In the already quoted Apostolic Exhortation document, Pope Saint John Paul II alludes to the spirit of service as the only inspiration that invites the laity to participate in political life of their country (cf. 42).
Sometimes some of our capable and gifted Catholic lay faithful look down on a calling to politics. Some feel it is the sole duty of Bishops to speak about politics on behalf of the people. Yes, you are right, yet the other side of the coin is also true. You the laity have a voice, you have a mission, you have a mandate in the political life of your nation. Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI put it more directly when he said to the lay faithful of Africa, “I also encourage you to have an active and courageous presence in the areas of political life, culture, the arts, the media and various associations. Do not be hesitant or ashamed about this presence, but be proud of it and conscious of the valuable contribution it can offer to the common good!” (Africae Munus: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace (19 November 2011).
You are the majority therefore, take your rightful place and present what is valuable to politics. I urge you to bring to the political field the values that make you a good Christian and a credible Catholic. We have among our laity some who understand why they are in politics and are ever ready to serve and contribute to a good political culture of the country. These are good examples. If you are among the laity who are involved in good politics, let St. Thomas More continue to guide you.
This said, we know that we also have bad examples of Catholic lay faithful who have entered politics not to serve but to enrich themselves. While there are Catholic politicians who try to discharge of their duties well, sadly some of them have compromised their faith and have neglected the spirit of service for political gain. They even choose to tell lies in order to continue holding on to power at various levels. What does political service means? Service in politics means ensuring that every human person in this country has the basic necessities of life: Food, shelter, security, education, water, electricity and other social amenities. Service in genuine politics does not mean amassing wealth for oneself or for one’s clan. On 4th November, 2000, addressing government leaders, members of parliament and politicians, Pope Saint John Paul II said, “Hence, Christians who engage in politics and who wish to do so as Christians, must act selflessly, not seeking their own advantage, or that of their group or party, but the good of one and all, and consequently, in the first place, that of the less fortunate members of the society”. If you are counted among the laity who are participating in bad politics of the nation, open your heart and let St. Thomas More intercede for you.
As your Bishops we will never grow tired of speaking up on non-partisan political matters using our prophetic ministry. We pray, we teach, we sanctify, and we preach! However, this should not make you, the laity, sit back and watch. You have your role. Our roles are different but they complement each other. The priests and religious who minister to you and with you have their roles too. Their role in the political sphere is to teach, guide, sensitise and challenge you to rise to the occasion so that you can fulfill your mandate of participating in politics.
Banabahesu, never underestimate your mission. You cannot forever remain a spectator in the political life of your country. You have a moral obligation to make sure that politics is done well so that others may live.
Banabahesu, this has been one of my longest reflections. This topic matters. It comes at a time when a lot is happening in the political sphere of the country. It is my hope and prayer that we shall take time to reflect and see what each one’s contribution to the political life of the country is or could be. For those who are seriously into politics to serve here is the chance given you once more to continue doing good. For the laity who are involved in politics for a wrong reason, this moment is given you to return to the basics and rediscover that which you have lost. For the laity who feel politics is not for them, this reflection together with the story of St. Thomas More should help you realise your responsibility in the political life of your country. Indeed you have a voice.
Once again, embrace your roles, your duties and your responsibilities in the political life of your country. Saint Thomas More is there as our model, let us imitate him; and ask for his guidance.
+Evans Chinyama Chinyemba, O.M.I.
Bishop of Mongu, Zambia