The Letter must be read as an echo of what Malawian Catholics have been saying to their priests over the years. For this reason, we can say that the Malawian Catholics had together, in the course of their social interchange, written the Pastoral Letter for the bishops. However, the final form of the letter was the bishops’ own rendition of the hidden transcript of a subordinate group (the ordinary citizens). – Hilary B. P. Mijoga.

It was with tears that many people read the photocopies of the Pastoral Letter which spread through the country like wildfire. Practically overnight the mode of discourse being used in everyday conversation was changed. People discussed that, as promised in the Pastoral Letter, ‘the truth will set you free’. – Kenneth Ross.

There are 23 days before Malawians vote in general elections, on Sunday April 29, 2019, the Nkhoma Synod of the CCAP, issued its Pastoral Letter titled “An Opportunity to choose a leader with good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” The letter, read in most of Nkhoma Synod churches mainly in the central region, has caused a stormy stir in Malawi because for all its intent and purposes, it appears to be an endorsement of Malawi Congress Party candidate Dr. Lazarus Chakwera. To top it off, unlike its famous predecessor “Living out faith” Catholic Bishops’ 1992 Pastoral Letter, the Nkhoma pastors did not consult either its fellow pastors or congregants.

This resulted in some leaders refusing to read the letter while a few congregants were reported to have either walked out of church or booed during its reading due to the pastoral letter’s partisan content.

Having lived through the issuing of the 1992 Living our faith epistle, the Nkhoma letter indeed lacks heavy-weighted social justice components and therefore appears weak and embedded in quick sand. In 1992, after the Bishops read their letter, congregants either passed it along to their non-Catholic friends and family, made photocopies, and before police started looked for the Bishops, most Malawians had not only read its contents, but were in agreement with the elements of the letter and could associate with the social justice concerns eloquently voiced by the bishops.

The result was that students took to the streets to march, while laborers downed their tools and staged country-wide labour unrest strikes. This was ]Malawi’s first ever industrial discontent against the Malawi Congress Party government under President Dr. Banda. On his part, the President first reached out to the laborers to return to work, but by November so much damage had been done that a call for a Referendum was announced.

This was the work of not a handful of bishops, but a nation-wide consultative matter, and most importantly it spoke to the issues at the heart of every Malawian: the bread and butter issues, also known as social justice. Speaking on these issues stirs up the people and they turn out in large numbers on polling day to choose their next leaders.

The Nkhoma Synod letter does not acknowledge what these challenges of its audience are; these are the voters, made up of women, men, boys and girls – the one who the bread and butter problems – school, health, food, water, electricity – affect the most. It its three-section epistle, the Nkhoma Synod tackles spiritual, governance, and election issues, but centers most of its ire on corrupt practices. In closing, the letter advises its members to vote for a leader who is “… full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (God-fearing).”

And just in case congregants are in doubt as to which candidate fits this tag among the Mutharika-Chimilirenji, Chilima-Usi, Chakwera-Mia, and Muluzi-Mwenefumbo teams, the Nkhoma Synod letter makes it clear.

Atu Muluzi does not fit on the Holy Spirit filled level; and he and Chilima are also ousted due to bullet point 2.4.

This clause states: “For the first time in the history of this nation, we have two serving members of the cabinet; the Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and the Minister of Health, all challenging the incumbent State President under whom they are currently serving with strong allegations that this government is corrupt.” In one sweep Muluzi and Chilima should be ousted from consideration.

Mutharika misses the Nkhoma Synod endorsement boat since the entire letter is written due to Mutharika Administration malpractices. This leaves only Chakwera as the lone man standing for the Nkhoma Synod members to consider when voting.

But the letter is troubling because, without starting a religious lesson or battle, the premise the Synod stands on shoots itself in the foot because of Chakwera’s running mate Mia, who is a Muslim, albeit, a God-fearing one…

The four presidential teams have many followers, many of them within the ambit of the Synod. The bread and butter concerns of 17 million Malawians will cause them to come out of their homes and head for the polling stations to elect the person they believe will take them out of the myriad of challenges they have faced these past years.

The Synod should have embraced these bread and butter concerns of Malawians; that would have made the Synod’s letter the trail-brazer like the 1992 Lantern Epistle Living our Faith of the eight Malawi Catholic bishops.

Long live genuine democracy! 

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