The influential Bishops met with President Lungu at State House today weeks after the branded the ruling party a dictatorship.
President Lungu opened his door to dialogue with the bishops in the midst of rising political tension in the country.
Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu, who has been a stern critic of President Lungu’s style of governance, was among the 14 bishops that even shared spontaneous light moments.
BELOW IS A STATEMENT BY STATE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON AMOS CHANDA
PRESIDENT LUNGU CONFER WITH CATHOLIC BISHOPS
LUSAKA, (Friday, 14th July, 2017)
His Excellency Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu President of the Republic of Zambia today met with members of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) at State House. The church leaders were at State House to underscore their commitment to working with Government for the good of the Zambian people.
ZCCB president, Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu who led a 14-member team of Catholic Bishops said: “We are emissaries of our Church and we come to express our good wishes to you and your Government.”
Commenting on the recent fires in the nation, Archbishop Mpundu said: “We deplore acts of violence such as arson as shown by the torching of the City Market. Our hearts reach out to the victims of this act and their loved ones.”
He continued: “We also decry the acts of sabotage aimed at public installations aimed at crippling economic progress. The culture of cadres across the entire political spectrum of political parties must be replaced by inclusiveness and zero tolerance for violence.”
The Catholic Bishops also appealed to the President to humble himself, put the country first and seriously consider engaging in a genuine face-to-face dialogue with opposition leader Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, such dialogue that will be aimed at reconciliation.
“Your Excellency is quite alive to the historic reconciliation that took place between the two late presidents Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Chilufya Sata. We would like the State to facilitate our visit to Mr Hakainde Hichilema so that we can deliver the same message to him, namely to humble himself, open the door and pursue the path towards genuine reconciliation.”
The President responded positively and encouraged the Catholic Bishops to visit Mr Hichilema and deliver their message.
Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Dr Chileshe Mulenga who attended the meeting said the Ministry will immediately facilitate the Bishops’ request.
The President welcomed the Bishops’ overtures for dialogue, but insisted that such a dialogue should be premised on the opposition first accepting the outcome of the 2016 elections.
The President reassured the Church of his commitment to constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law. “My Lords I wish to assure you of my full commitment to our citizens’ democratic rights. They shall be safe under my Presidency.’’
The President thanked the Church for their appeal to dialogue and reconciliation while urging them to be more vocal on actions from any quarters that threaten national peace and unity. “I want to appeal to the Church to speak with a louder voice against violence and other acts that undermine our peace and unity,’’ the Head of State said.
The Bishops also said: “Our overriding concern is the aftermath of the election that was held in August last year, 2016. It cannot be denied that it was a divisive election which has left the people of this nation deeply divided.
Following Your Excellency’s appeal on 12th March, 2016 at Mpika, we responded by drawing leaders from other church groupings to put our heads together in order to bring the political players together in view of conducting campaign peacefully and ensure peaceful elections. The meeting at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Cross was meant to achieve a consensus on how to conduct peaceful campaign. You are also a witness that it was not very successful.”
“We repeat this call to Your Excellency and through you to your Government to embark upon a well spelt out and action oriented programme of National Reconciliation through genuine dialogue. We call upon you as President of the whole nation not just your political party to put in place concrete measures to reverse the worrying and very dangerous trend of doing politics through violence.”
Archbishop Mpundu hoped that this meeting will be a building block in promoting a mutually appreciated relationship between the Church and State.
“We never tire to reiterate that the constituency of the Political Authority and that of the Church is one and the same, namely the people of this great nation. That is why the State and the Church must cooperate with each other in its sphere of competence for the benefit of our people. This cooperation consists of comparing notes and exchanging experiences in view of enhanced service delivery to God’s people at whose service both the State and the Church must be in order to be relevant.”
Archbishop Mpundu led 13 bishops and Father Cleophas Lungu who attended the hour-long meeting whilst the President was accompanied by Religious Affairs Minister Rev. Godfredah Sumaili, Presidential Affairs Minister Freedom Sikazwe and Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Dr. Chileshe Mulenga.
The Bishops are: ZCCB Vice-president Bishop Alick Banda, Bishop Ignatius Chama, Bishop Patrick Chisanga, Bishop Justin Mulenga, Bishop Charles Kasonde, Bishop Clement Mulenga, Bishop Evans Chinyemba, Bishop Moses Hamungole, Bishop Valentine Kalumba, Bishop Raymond Mpezele, Bishop George Lungu, Bishop Benjamin Phiri and the ZCCB Secretary General Father Cleophas Lungu.
SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT
(PRESS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS)