By Albert Dhafana
Technical Working Group Laity Representative ZCBC
The bishops of the three countries of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been consulting among themselves for some time on how they could increase cooperation on a number of issues, especially on the pastoral front. The three countries share very close ties going back into history. Geographical boundaries as we know them became pronounced in late 19th century. Before then, people were living in kingdoms, most of them as pastoralist farmers, with migration occurring with ease among the kingdoms. The people of the three countries are commonly referred to as Bantu, with common cultural practices and in most cases similar languages. As recent as 1953, the countries of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe came together in a Federation (Nyasaland, Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia). Although it officially came to an end in 1963, the federation had made a lasting mark in the lives of the people. There are many Malawians and Zambians for example in the mining and farming communities of Zimbabwe. A number of Zimbabweans had moved to both Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia as bureaucrats and entrepreneurs. On the social level, there have been inter-marriages among the people of the three countries, thereby creating lifelong ties. It is common in a Zimbabwean liturgy to have Nyanja, Chewa and Bemba songs. All this explains the symbiotic connection of the peoples in the three countries.
The establishment of a sub-regional conference has to satisfy a number of conditions. The bishops’ conferences of the three countries have to proffer compelling reasons to the Holy See. The reasons should appeal pastorally as well as supported in terms of Church law. The Church exists to evangelise and as such any endeavour should add or complement to this basic objective. The three countries already belong to regional conferences – with Malawi and Zambia belonging to the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) and Zimbabwe belonging to the Inter Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA). Membership in the regional conferences will be retained but at the same time increasing collaboration within a sub-regional grouping. The main areas of focus will be on improved pastoral outreaches and accompaniment benefiting from the common languages, human relations and history. Also the formation of the laity, religious and clergy will also benefit from shared approaches and resources already taking place among certain religious congregations and bodies. There is much potential for collaboration among the Catholic Universities, Colleges and Training Centres of the three countries. This is critical for human capital development as this collaboration will allow tapping into the best practices and areas of competence found in individual countries. Health, education, justice and peace access as well as poverty alleviation contribute to integral human development. The existence of almost similar climatic conditions as well exposure to extreme weather patterns resulting in undesirable occurrences like El Nino, Cyclones, present with compelling cases for concerted collaborative efforts among the episcopal jurisdictions of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The bishops’ conferences organized a Consultative Meeting from 2nd – 5th February 2020, held in Lusaka, Zambia at Family Legacy Lodge. The Secretaries General of the three bishops’ conferences led a Technical Working Group composed of the laity, religious and clergy in the research and documentation of the key areas of the proposed sub-regional conference. The Consultative Meeting was a culmination of the many efforts in the background, correspondence and communication with the Holy See, secular establishments like government, universities, formation houses, laity bodies as well as development partners in Caritas Internationalis. The meeting was an occasion for the bishops’ to reflect, discuss and resolve on this bold undertaking.
The Consultative meeting started with holy mass celebration at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus in the Archdiocese of Lusaka on 3 February 2020 which was followed by a reception at the Apostolic Nunciature. This marked the beginning to the conclusion of a journey of discernment, writings and consultations about the establishment of the sub-regional body. The Apostolic Nuncio to Zambia and Malawi delivered Pope Francis’ fraternal blessings for the consultative meeting. The Congregation of the Evangelisation of the Peoples also sent a message of solidarity to the bishops. Later in the day, the President of Zambia H.E. Edgar Lungu attended the official opening ceremony and gave his solidarity message. The 4th February 2020 was reserved as the day of presentations following which all the bishops would engage in a closed session to agree on the form, modalities and structure of the sub-regional conferences. Communication will be made thereafter so as to guide the family of God on this ecclesiastical milestone.