Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
The first Consultative Meeting of the Catholic Bishops of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe took place from 3 to 5 February in Lusaka, Zambia.
Enhancing pastoral collaboration
In a communique issued at the end of the meeting, the Bishops resolved, among other matters, to consider forming a new regional body.
“We, the Catholic Bishops of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, having considered the common factors shared among the three countries such as: historical, cultural, political, religious and socio-economic, which contain a modifying influence on the pastoral situation, noted that the provision of Canon law 431 § 1 allows for the establishment of the sub-regional conference aimed at enhancing pastoral collaboration and addressing the many challenges that our countries are confronted with,” reads the communique made a available to Vatican News.
Short and long term plans
Given this, the Bishops say, “The project (of forming a sub-regional conference) envisions that in the short-term, Malawi and Zambia will continue to belong to the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA) and Zimbabwe to the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) respectively. However, in the long-term, the sub-region will be delinked from AMECEA and IMBISA, respectively.”
AMECEA is an association of all the Bishops of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda. Somalia and Djibouti have observer status.
On the other hand, IMBISA is a regional organisation that groups all the Bishops of Angola and São Tome & Principe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
Significant development for the Church in Africa
The happenings this week, in Lusaka, constitute a major development in the life of the Church in Africa. The eventual realignment for AMECEA and IMBISA is worthy of attention. Zambia is a founding member of AMECEA, which was established in 1961. The founding President for AMECEA was the then Archbishop of Lusaka, Adam Kozlowiecki, SJ., later elevated to the cardinalate by Pope Saint John Paul II. The current President of AMECEA is Zambia’s Bishop of Solwezi, Charles Kasonde.
Similarly, for Zimbabwe, the country is currently the host of the IMBISA Secretariat and has been an active member of IMBISA for many years.
Speaking earlier in an interview with Zambia’s Lumen TV in Lusaka, Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) Secretary General, Fr. Cleophas Lungu explained the reasons for this new development. He said, the three countries felt drawn to each other because they have a lot in common – historically, culturally and ecclesiastically.
“We must acknowledge three factors. Fundamentally, we have strong historical links; we have a lot in common in terms of culture. . . This meeting is coming as fruition of interaction that has been going on at a smaller scale. Third, we have realised that our three countries share more or less similar challenges economically, politically as well as pastoral challenges,” said Fr. Lungu.
Towards a more effective proclamation of the Gospel
The communique released by the Bishops also stated they had been inspired by the Goodwill message sent to the Consultative Meeting by Pope Francis. In his message the Holy Father invited the Bishops of the three Southern African countries to “prayerfully discuss the mission of the Church in Southern Africa” leading to an “ever more effective proclamation of the Gospel and a more fruitful pastoral care of God’s People.” Similarly, the Holy See’s Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples challenged the prelates to abandon the complacent attitude that asserts, ‘We have always done it this way’ and instead be bold and creative in their task of re-thinking the goals, structures, styles and methods of evangelisation. The latter being a reference to Pope Francis’ document, Evangelii Gaudium.
The Bishops have since put in place a steering committee mandated with the task of drawing up draft statutes, proposing operational structures and drawing up a financing plan for the envisaged new sub-regional association of Bishops.