Pastoral letters bite –for a good reason
The week of the release of the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letters is traditionally a week of terror for government. There is always silence.
During this time, government officials make themselves having not seen the letter.
When news of the release of the pastoral letters reaches the State House, it sounds like a coup.
On the eve of the advent of democracy, when the pastoral letter ‘Living Our Faith’ was released in 1992, there was the same restlessness and digging of fiendish ideas by the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) government.
It was even reported that time that the bishops were in great danger of death. In fact, a foreign missionary who was one of the authors of the letter was deported.
Bakili Muluzi had his team ready in seasons of the pastoral letters when his government reeled in rampant corruption and inefficiency.
During his second term, Bingu wa Mutharika challenged the pastoral letter, ‘Signs of the Times’ on November 24, 2010.
So, it is an old tradition to shiver or even disregard the bishop’s pastoral letters.
But then, not all Catholic bishops’ letters have a similar significance and relevance all the time. It is only when they come during times of a national crisis that their messages sink so well in the inner recesses of the suffering citizens.
For example, the current pastoral letter, ‘Mercy of God as a path of Hope’, has come at the time of a national crisis. Malawians are struggling with food shortage. Agriculture is failing. The economy is heading north. Public service delivery remains in the doldrums. These are the issues that the letter is talking about.
Yet, for better or for worse, government mouthpieces are shut, perhaps thinking on how best to deal with the bishop’s message. Minister of Information Jappie Mhango and his men and women might be busy now turning the pages of the letter, crafting a response, if at all.
But the government might wish to understand that Malawi has a new generation which requires a completely new approach to calm the tempers of old and young men suffering from poverty. That letter carries a people’s anger and bashing it for the sake of it can only inflame the situation more.
That letter should tell the government that the ground is fast shifting and a huge storm seems to be building up on the horizon in Malawi politics because of the repeated failure to provide what people expected.
It has reached this point partly because many feel have nothing to lose and are now more than ever willing to risk a fight given a chance.
Out there, from almost every corner of this small land seems to stretch a chain of young men and women rigid with tension and worries of what will happen to them after their college education.
The current Catholic bishops’ letter has come at that season of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leadership, where everything seems to indicate that Malawi is undergoing a crucial moment in the redefinition of what counts as “socio-economic progress”.
Cries over poor service delivery raised in the pastoral letter and over crucial matters such as persistent hunger, lack of quality education, poor justice system, poor access to health care, to mention a few, are genuine and reflect the current challenges Malawians are facing.
It would be strange therefore if a government officials declared some parts of the letter as totally fictitious material.
Fewer and fewer Malawians can now hold their patience and as the belief in those promises now fast recedes, raw affect, raw emotions and raw feelings are harnessed and recycled back into the politics of anger.
The pastoral letter shares those feelings.
The suffering of Malawians should now be the most important articles of faith. Behind the suffering of Malawians, there looms a broader indictment on the social and political order. In short, the pastoral letter points to the fact that there is disorder in the Peter Mutharika administration. It points to failure. It points to the urgency of the need for the government to act.
If the political leaders fail to properly demythologise suffering – as the machine in which a huge portion of the humanity has become entangled in spite of itself –the pastoral letter will keep claiming much support.
The government therefore needs to capture the victim’s imagination before it goes into criticism of the bishops’ voices.
This pastoral letter, like the others before it, cannot be seen to be politicising pain as others tend to criticise them; neither do they go out advocating for sorrow. It just says patience is running low and that government must better take action.
It says anyone venturing in politics now or in future must go in there armed with clues to deal with a generation of impatience; that they must be ready to face the Catholic bishops’ pastoral letters here when that popular impatience takes hold.
The fact is: it is not easy to be a leader of a nation in these days. Or is it?
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