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 CNS Story:

ZAMBIA-DUFFY Sep-20-2010 (620 words) With photo. xxxi

In Zambia, U.S.-born bishop's statement on change escalates tensions

By Mwansa Pintu
Catholic News Service

LUSAKA, Zambia (CNS) -- Church-state tensions have escalated over a U.S.-born bishop's statement that the people of his diocese felt it was an appropriate time to change the government.

Members of the government's Movement for Multiparty Democracy has threatened to "physically harm" the bishop if he does not apologize for his remarks, while the Zambian bishops' conference and individual priests have defended the prelate.

Bishop Paul Duffy of Mongu said Sept.3 that the general feeling of the people he interacted with in his diocese was that Zambian President Rupiah Banda's government should be voted out of office next year because it has failed to improve their living conditions.

"Here in Western province, people think it is time for change," Bishop Duffy told a reporter from the Post, the country's leading daily tabloid.

Government spokesman Ronnie Shikapwasha accused the bishop of "being used by opposition political parties" to campaign against "a popularly elected government," and others asked him to apologize.

On Sept 13, senior Movement for Multiparty Democracy officials, referring to themselves as the "MMD crack squad," threatened to travel to Mongu to "physically harm" Bishop Duffy.

Bishop Duffy, 78, said he owed no one any apology over the statement because he was merely voicing the people's feelings.

"Why should I apologize? Moreover, I have received a lot of solidarity messages over my statement," said Bishop Duffy, who was born in Norwood, Mass., and has worked in Zambia for 26 years.

On Sept. 13, Bishop George Lungu of Chipata, president of the Zambian bishops' conference, said the president deserved to know the truth about the state of the nation through listening to credible people like bishops who are in constant touch with the people.

"I deeply sympathize with my brother bishop with regard to reactions which his statement has elicited ... but as bishops and shepherds of the people, our prophetic voice is motivated by our divine obligation and wish to see (the) government do better and succeed," he said.

"This has nothing to do with any perceived dislike or preferences for any particular sitting president or government," Bishop Lungu added. "The collective voice of bishops, speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church in Zambia, is always clear ... when we speak as bishops, our message is distinct."

Oblate Father Godfrey Mpundu, the order's treasurer general, said the government was using the "so-called 'crack squad'" to wage violent attacks on people with divergent views and those who wanted to promote the common good in the nation by criticizing the wrongs of the movement.

He urged the police to take seriously the threats on the bishop's life, and he called on Catholics in the Mongu Diocese to be on alert and ensure that Bishop Duffy is protected from disgruntled political cadres.

Meanwhile, Caritas Zambia condemned the ruling party's threats on Bishop Duffy's life and expressed shock at the police's lack of action on the perpetrators of such criminal acts.

"Caritas Zambia will not sit and watch ruling party officials insult Bishop Duffy, who works tirelessly to uplift the lives of people in the diocese," said a Sept. 17 Caritas statement. "Every person has the right to expression, which should be respected as contained in the laws of Zambia."

Milimo Mwiba, the head of Caritas Zambia's justice and peace unit, said the threats demonstrate "the growing intolerance to divergent views as we approach the 2011 general elections."

"It is a fact that Western province still remains one of the poorest provinces in Zambia. Yes, people are tired, and someone has to stand up for them; this is what the bishop has been doing and will continue to do," Mwiba said of Bishop Duffy, who heads the board of Caritas Zambia.

END


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