IT is encouraging that the State wants to engage with Arch-Bishop George Lungu of the Chipata Archdiocese on his expressed opposition to the fund provided by the Government to aid the Zambian church as it recovers from the impact of the virus on its work.
Bishop Lungu occupies a place of great authority and influence not just among the Catholic flock, but among the general populace of the country. He is an eminent person whose word and actions carry a lot of religious, social and political import.
And as much as he is entitled to his opinion about the fund, what he thinks and expresses publicly on this matter and others on which his guidance is regularly sought, is almost certainly going to catch the attention of the nation. As the publicity given to his comments and directives on this matter prove.
It is well, therefore, that the State engages him to find out the basis of his objections to a fund that, given the number of church and other faith organisations applying for access to the money (400 at the last count), is obviously meeting a widely-felt need.
Churches, like most business entities in Zambia, have taken a massive financial hit from the COVID 19. Being almost entirely dependent on offerings and tithes from their members, almost all churches were left reeling by last year’s lengthy lock-down that required congregants to stay home as part of measures to stem the tide of infections.
By the sheer size of its flock and its organisational structure, the Catholic church was not nearly as badly affected as most stand-alone churches where Sunday offerings are the pastor’s bread of life. For them, the COVID 19 church fund may well be a matter of life and death. It is safe to say they are not shouting ‘Amen!’ to Bishop Lungu’s advice to reject the fund.
More concerning, though, is that his comments come at a really crucial time in the fight against the pandemic; when the vaccine, which arrived in Zambia on Monday, is about to be rolled out in an exercise in which religious institutions and authorities, like the bishop himself, will be expected to play an important role.
As the biggest religious and faith-based institution in Zambia, the Catholic church, with a presence in every district in the country, is well-positioned positively contribute to preventing the spread of the virus, while serving as a source of comfort and stability, as it has already demonstrated not just during this particular challenge, but on many previous occasions, in both national and some localised crisis situations.
One area in which the church is being relied upon for support is in mobilising the population to embrace the vaccine. This is because churches and other traditional actors have both the means and the credibility to communicate information and teachings that will be accepted by their communities in times of crisis.
Amid the swirl of myths, lies and misinformation surrounding the vaccine, the State is looking to its religious and traditional leaders to help spread the vaccine gospel. This is important because the vaccine can help to mitigate the vulnerabilities of communities and fortify their resilience to the disease.
They can do this by encouraging their flocks and subjects to reject baseless conspiracy theories being put on social media and other platforms, and to listen, instead, to the safety guidelines promoted by the respective government and other trusted sources such World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC.
With the potential of a third wave of the COVID 19 a very real possibility, Zambia is still in a life-and-death situation. This is not time for critical actors like the State and the Church to be to pulling away from each other.