Heightened political tension and economic turmoil are causing great concern for the Catholic bishops in Zambia who have issued a pastoral letter entitled, "A Call for Integrity" - writes Moses Chitendwe.
"What is clear is that we are seeing government officials and politicians jostling for power and strategically positioning themselves for the 2011 elections," said the Zambia Episcopal Conference of bishops in the message they had issued on 1 March.
On 9 March 2009 foreign affairs minister, Kabinga Pande, had, however, implored the Church not to "perpetually criticise" the government, but to offer solutions to the country's many problems.
Speaking during an ordination service at Lusaka's Chilenje Evangelical Church of Zambia, Pande said the government considered the Church to be a partner in development and it was for that reason he called for a cordial relationship.
However, in their letter, the Catholic bishops warned that Zambia is on the threshold of a crisis. The bishops said that, "In the process, the government is increasingly becoming over sensitive and paranoid to any form of criticism, even constructive criticism..."
They noted that since Zambia gained independence from Britain in 1964, the country had been seen as a citadel of peace, but the nation now seemed to be in the midst of great uncertainty. The bishops said they could not stay aloof while some economic gains were being lost.
"We believe that our faith and moral principles can help guide the search for just and effective responses to the economic turmoil that threatens our country," said the bishops.
The Catholic leaders noted that some of the effects of the current economic crisis were particular to Zambia such as the closure of mines and the collapse of the Zambian currency. The bishops accused the government of lacking a clear strategy to address the deteriorating economic situation.
"We face many challenges of governance and survival," said the Catholic bishops. "Among these are increasing poverty, and the presence of abject poverty, a pervading cancer of corruption, spiralling job losses, economic disintegration, an education system that is failing and a constitution-making process that is still controversial and seems not to be in the interests of citizens."
The bishops added, "As Zambians, we need to examine our consciences, seek the truth and work towards bringing back hope to our people."
They said the situation had worsened since they issued their last pastoral letter on 9th November after elections the previous month and in which they had alluded to a growing polarisation in Zambian society.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]