“… he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)
We celebrated the Easter season not long ago. Holy Week was a fascinating experience for the Christians. Catechumens were baptised or confirmed in the faith. It was also an intense moment for all Christians to review their Christian commitment and witness. Zambia received the first evangelizing Catholic missionaries 125 years ago. When the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) arrived at Mambwe-Mwela in 1891, theirs was an experience of responding to the Easter experience; a journey back to Galilee.
Eastertide raised two serious questions in my mind; “how can I be a true witness of the Risen Christ” and “where is the Galilee that the Lord is sending me to.” After the resurrection of Jesus, a ‘Christ movement’ sprang-up. The instruction to return to Galilee was symbolic; the disciples had to get in touch with the reality, which Jesus had experienced, to remember his message and his deeds for their own inspiration. The Resurrection meant encountering and living out Christ’s message and hence Galilee was important in the story.
Church anniversaries, like the 125th anniversary of the coming of the Catholic Faith to Zambia, take us back to the beginning of the missionary life; a Galilean experience. To do so, we would do well to re-visit what Jesus expected of the disciples, to look again at the message he left. For Jesus, service of others was the mark of the Reign of God. For Jesus, service meant to be available, to heal, to transform, to forgive, to intervene, to celebrate and to give hope.
On Holy Thursday Jesus washed the feet of the disciples in a context of celebrating the Jewish Passover. Jesus sat at table with the disciples, he re-lived the Jewish Passover with them, he stressed the essentials of the message he had preached in Galilee and other places. It is the same message Jesus had gone to proclaim loud and clear in Jerusalem. The chief priests and the Roman authorities heard his concerns and the call to build God’s kingdom. The prophets who had preceded him had spoken about it but as years went by, it became business-as-usual.
As we celebrate the 125 years of Catholicism in Zambia, we need to look again at the essentials of the faith; the message of Christ, rekindling the attitudes Christ asked of the disciples. The theme, “We Are the Missionaries of Today,” is pertinent. The Catholics in Zambia should realize that they are missionaries by remembering and living, within their neighbourhoods, the attitudes found in the Gospel.
How can a Christian, the baptized, religious, priest or bishop, serve today? Where is the Galilee of today? What are the situations and places that call for the proclamation of the Christian message in a clear way by word and deed?
A few months ago, I stopped by at the roadside near one of the towns in Zambia. I noticed a boy selling sugar cane to raise school fees. He missed school because he was sent home to look for thirty-five Kwacha for school fees. I have seen unimaginable poverty. Schools and health centres are struggling to reach the needy. There are cases of starvation. In some places, crimes are reported. Several people have no land and salaries are meagre. There is a shortage of clean water. There is impunity. We see investors grabbing local resources with the aim of maximising their profits without regard to the needs of the poor. Politicians are engaged in purely partisan politics.
This country is a self-acclaimed “Christian Nation.” Where is the service? Whose feet are we washing as the Pilgrim People of God? To be a follower of Christ today demands that we do everything to offer dignity to people. The washing of the disciples’ feet was Jesus’ gesture to offer a new form of leadership. The great one is the servant. Jesus, by rising from the table to wash the feet of his disciples, establishes a new attitude to serve the people of God. Peter was paralyzed by this idea. In Peter’s mentality, a disciple, the leader is the “boss.” Today we make a big mistake in the Church if we see leadership as confering privilege, honour and status and do not see it as a service to God people.
Jesus’ Kingdom of God is a reality where concern for all creation is the benchmark. That concern is holiness. The missionary of today, the Christian of today is called to go to Galilee, to be a participant in the events of life, in the filth and turmoil of human reality—, to be, and do all this in “memory” of Christ. The Eucharist urges us on. Pope Francis encourages Christians, religious, missionaries, to “have the smell of the sheep.” A good shepherd carries the smells of his animals!
The Catholic Church in Zambia should return to what can liberate and transform society. We cannot leave it to the hands of politicians, to Non-Government Organisations and investors. These will not ‘bend down and wash the feet’ of the people. This is both a challenge and a motivation for leadership in the Church.
We, “missionaries of today,” are tasked to be agents of the common good: the welfare of our neighbours, the brothers and sisters we serve. We need to get involved in health services, to inspire people to work hard to produce more food in this vast land. We should be engaged in providing meaningful education. A “missionary of today,” should struggle for decent housing, good drinking water and viable families. The Church today should fight the unscrupulous exploitation of natural resources in Zambia. In as much as this country is a “Christian Nation,” Christians must be engaged in accountable and good governance; governance should not to be left to party cadres. A missionary of today should think of the Integrity of Creation and the prosperity of the citizens. We should work for unity by disrupting divisions based on tribal and narrow party-political lines.
Robust evangelization demands social, economic, political and structural transformation. This is liberation, this is the Easter experience; the journey down to Galilee.
Up-to-date missionaries should be involved in questioning the status quo at every level of society. We should examine political promises. We need to probe the mushrooming “prophets.” We need to challenge the practice and meaning of the sacraments we receive. We need to stress, “service delivery from church leaders, and hold the citizens responsible for the life they live. When we are present, where it all happens, in Galilee, amongst God’s people, we will meet the Risen Lord and we shall possibly flourish as Apostles and Missionaries of the 21st century.
Venerato Babaine, M.Afr.