Our beloved lord bishops, we greet you with blessings of our risen lord Jesus Christ. Indeed may this holy season of Easter renew in you the grave responsibility entrusted to you by our Lord Jesus Christ of tending his sheep with passion and compassion.
It is customary that bishops, as shepherds, address the faithful on various matters of concern through pastoral letters and statements. We the Catholic lay faithful, however, have taken this unprecedented move to instead write you this “pastoral letter”, considering that you have abandoned your flock to the wolves. In the Gospel of John (John 10: 11-13) Jesus gives us a beautiful image of a shepherd who tends his sheep with passion. Unlike the hired man, the good shepherd does not abandon his sheep even in moments of grave danger to his own life.
However, since the change of government in September 2011, the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) seems to have traded the role of a good shepherded for that of a hired man who is not willing to lay his life for his sheep but instead abandons his sheep to the wolves. The collective behavior of ZEC and some individual bishops has been inconsistent, suspicious and short of the high standards we have been accustomed to under the ZEC of humble servants of God such as Cardinal Mazombwe, Bishops Paul Duffy, James Corboy, Elias Mutale, Adrian Mung’andu and Dennis de Jong, to name but a few.
In 2011, shortly after the PF government assumed office, the government set in motion a constitution making process that existed only at the discretion and caprice of the president. It had absolutely no legal provisions to protect the process. Yet ZEC made hurst to join the process and assigned Rev. Fr. Ives Bantungwa (Vicar General of Kasama Archdiocese) to represent it. We are aware that ZEC boycotted the National Constitutional Conference process set up by President Mwanawasa and continued by President Rupiah Banda on the pretext that “process protects content” and since the process was not sufficiently protected by law, ZEC would not participate as the outcome would be liable to be manipulated by the executive. Now that the PF constitutional process is in total disarray, we wonder if our shepherds will have courage to admit that they sacrificed prudence at the altar of expedience.
We have noted with disbelief that Archbishop Ignatius Chama, the ZEC President, dismissed five priests last year for accepting contracts from Ministry of Education to teach in government schools under the guise that “you cannot serve two masters at the same time.” Yet we are dismayed that ZEC, which is the board of governors of Caritas (the development and social justice wing of the church), allowed the Caritas Director, Sam Mulafulafu to take up a paid job as one of the directors for the government’s Financial Intelligence Centre, answerable to the republican president. It is common cause that no one can be a judge in his own cause. This is a clear case of conflict of interest. It is surely no wonder that Caritas rarely speaks out on national matters nowadays. We are aware that the few times Mr. Mulafulafu has spoken out; he has received calls from State House. We miss the vibrant Caritas of Fr. Joe Komakoma, Laura Miti, Mulima Kufekisa Akapelwa and Joesph Kalungu Sampa.
We found it disturbing that when the former Minister of Defense Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) resigned from his position on a matter of principle, it was ZEC President Ignatius Chama who was deployed by the PF as its special envoy to dissuade GBM from that principled decision. When bishops become involved in national issues in a partisan way, it impairs their judgment to address important issues objectively. It is therefore hardly surprising that Bishop Chama has been deafeningly silent when a large scale war is waged by the PF government against the Bemba Royal Establishment (BRE), tearing apart his own flock in Kasama Archdiocese. The words of the great author Burke ring true here: “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
More than anything else, we are dumbfounded by the new lukewarm approach of Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu towards national matters. Before September 2011, Mpundu was a national icon who incessantly spoke against abuse of state power and national resources and a visible sign of solidarity with the poor. Many of us considered that he was doing this out of genuine pastoral concern. But after change of government, Mpundu rarely speaks out on governance issues. When he occasionally does, his statements are usually guarded, enormously qualified, self-negating and calculated not to upset the status quo. As faithful Catholics, we surely would not want to believe the online media speculation that his past works were done to aid his brother in-law to ascend to power. Bishop Mpundu’s argument that journalist no longer seek his views are without merit. In this social media age, no one needs a journalist to speak to the world.
The great nation of Zambia, once the envy of our neighboring states, is nose-diving into mismanagement and chaos at a frenetic speed. The PF government has in two years accumulated more debt than did the UNIP government in 20 years; violence is systematically and with impunity visited upon anyone who speaks against government; meetings are brutally disrupted; freedom of expression is crashed; the professional civil service has been replaced y ethnic and cadre sycophants; the national currency is losing value at an alarming rate comparable only to countries at war; and regionalism and ethnic consciousness is slowly growing. Yet ZEC has not yet seen it necessary to systematically speak out strongly against these ills. When ZEC has occasionally spoken out, as in the last two pastoral letters, the language tends to be guarded and qualified. Unlike in the past when ZEC would order that the pastoral letters be read in every parish around the country, this time around this command is left out and we wonder why.
Catholic bishops cannot remain unmoved by the suffering of the nation and citizens. The suffering of the people is the suffering of God, who is permanently joined to humanity in the mystery of the incarnation. Bishops should go beyond issuing begrudgingly occasional pastoral letters and suffer with their people. The PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD (GAUDIUM ET SPES) PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS, POPE PAUL VI ON DECEMBER 7, 1965 at the Vatican II Council, in the opening paragraph states categorically that: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” Bishops, more than anyone else, must accompany their flock in the griefs that assail them. The Apostle Paul clearly stated that we did not inherit the spirit of timidity.
A bishop, is therefore, a shepherded who, if needs be, is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. That is why Canon Law forbids bishops to leave their dioceses even in moments of war and conflict. Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated by a brutal regime for speaking out for his own oppressed people is a good model of what a catholic bishop is called to be. A few weeks before he was assassinated, Bishop Romero stated: “If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death be for the freedom of my people. A bishop will die, but the Church of God, which is the people, will never perish. I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me I will rise again in the people of El Salvador.”
As Catholic lay faithful, we have absolute faith in the office of bishop, successors to the apostles. We fully understand the challenges and threats that may assail you if you chose to discharge your roles fearlessly. We offer our solidarity to Bishop George Lungu of Chipata Diocese, who received threats for carrying out his prophetic role. Yet we believe that as shepherds, you have a solemn mandate and duty to transcend personal fears in order to be fully at the service of your flock, the “Anawim” of Yahweh, so that liberated from the humanly created suffering, they may join our Mother Mary in singing the Magnificat, that beautiful song of liberated poor people.
Once again, we wish you our lord bishops all the blessings of Easter. We entrust you in prayer to our Mother Mary, that you may be renewed and grow in pastoral zeal and fearlessness.
We the Hopeful Lay Catholics
May 8, 2014.