Mons. Thomas Msusa, Bishop of Zomba in Malawi, came to Medjugorje in November 2005 together with Mons. Allan Chamgwera, his retired predecessor, and with Mons. Remi Joseph Gustave Saint-Marie, Bishop of Dedza.
What is happening in Medjugorje is also helping the Church to advance
A positive experience of Medjugorje inspires the faithful to give witness in the environment where they live. This experience of faith is noticeable in the way they change their lives, their habits and their attitudes. Sometimes, it effects them so much that they build a Way of the Cross, and a church, that is identical to the one in Medjugorje, and as a result we can really call it a “miracle”. This “miracle” is happening in a small country called Malawi, in the south of Africa. This country is situated between Tanzania in the north, Zambia in the west, Mozambique in the southwest and east, and Lake Malawi in the east. Until 1964, Malawi was a British colony. During the first 30 years of its independence, the country had a pro-western authoritarian government, and since 1994, it has a democratically elected administration. There are 12 million inhabitants, one quarter of whom are Catholic, 40% are Protestant, 16% are Muslim and the remainder belong to traditional religions. The population is poor, living mainly off agriculture, and AIDS is a huge problem. Three bishops from Malawi visited Medjugorje Parish: Mons. Thomas Msusa, Bishop of Zomba, Mons. Allan Chamgwera, his retired predecessor, and Mons. Remi Joseph Gustave Saint-Marie, Bishop of Dedza. Mons. Msusa is the youngest bishop in Malawi. He is the son of a Muslim mullah. “Because of our poverty”, he says, “I was educated by the missionaries. My father was a Muslim minister, and I became a priest in the Church of Jesus Christ”.
Father Bishop, would you be so kind as to tell us something about the life of your diocese and of the Church in Malawi?
The Church exists in Malawi for about 100 years now. The Gospel came thanks to the missionaries from Italy, England, America and Germany. Now, we have many priests from our own country. We have developed a pastoral programme called the “Little Christian Community”, where the faithful stimulate one another to awaken in faith, instead of waiting for the missionaries or for the priests. At the centre of everything is the Holy Scripture, the sharing of the Word of God between the faithful. This Word is well received and it is alive in the families. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is also essential for our Church. The missionaries have already underlined the necessity of praying the Rosary. Therefore, we are not surprised when families gather and pray the Rosary together. This is a similarity between ourselves and Medjugorje, where Our Lady constantly encourages people to pray the Rosary.
What is the relationship between the religious communities in your country, and what is the social situation of that society?
Until ten years ago a political party, led by a dictator, was in power. At that time, nobody was allowed to criticise the administration. In 1992, the Catholic bishops had a secret meeting and wrote a critical letter. It was a very important event. The letter was revolutionary. It criticised the administration. Through secret channels, this letter was sent to all the bishops and to all the parishes in the country. All the priests were told to read it during the Sunday Mass. On hearing this, not only the Catholics, but the Muslims and the Protestants, stood shoulder to shoulder. This was the beginning of democracy in Malawi. Two years later, in 1994, a president was democratically elected. He was a Muslim. During the first five years of his government all went very well. He always spoke about the Catholic Church in a positive way. He always underlined that he was elected thanks to the Catholics. But when he was re-elected, during his second mandate, he showed his real face. He allowed corruption. He gave high positions to the Muslims. He did very bad things. The Church began to criticise him, and he turned against the Church. He wanted to be elected for a third term, but the Catholic Church and other Christian communities influenced public opinion, and he was not re-elected for a third term. After the elections, his successor, a Catholic, entered into conflict with the previous government. Consequently the Muslims claimed that the Catholic Church was governing Malawi, and discords arose between the Muslims and the Catholics. The current president is a Catholic, but he does not have the support of Parliament. The Muslim majority wants him to withdraw. The central problem in the country, however, is famine. The population engages mainly in agriculture. During recent years, we had terrible drought, and the food shortages increased. About four and a half million are facing the problem of famine, and if the administration does not act, who knows if those people will survive. Another problem is the great number of HIV-positives. Many are dying, and leaving orphans behind. The third problem is the Muslims, who have the support of other Muslim countries and have great financial resources also. They are buying food and giving it to the people, but on condition that they become Muslims. Islamic countries are giving money and scholarships to young people, but under the same conditions – that they embrace Islam. Unfortunately the young people, desiring a better life, are accepting these conditions.
You, father Bishop, came to Medjugorje thanks to a donation. This is your first visit to Medjugorje. What have you experienced?
I heard about Medjugorje a long time ago, and I read about Medjugorje when I was a seminarian. My Rector intended to send me to Medjugorje, but it was not possible then. Recently, I met a woman who is in charge of the Medjugorje Peace Centre in Malawi. She asked me if I wanted to go to Medjugorje, and I accepted. My desire was to pray here, because in Malawi I am very busy, and have very little time for prayer. I am very enthusiastic about my visit here. I saw pilgrims from all over the world, all united in prayer. I am delighted to see the piety here. People take very seriously the sacrament of confession, and the Blessed Eucharist also. I am so amazed… I have no words to describe what I feel. I ask myself why Medjugorje is so distant from Malawi. We also need such a place, but my people have no funds to come to Medjugorje. I have received an answer: I am the one who has to spread the news about Medjugorje. Furthermore, there are the experiences of people who come here. Previously I read about this in books, but now I have experienced it personally. I observed this also in my own group, with the other bishops. We became united, and this tells me that this is a gift from God. God is telling us... you have to be apostles.
A very interesting project is being approved in your country: a Medjugorje Shrine in Malawi. Why, and where is the idea coming from?
Everything started under the direction of the Peace Centre in Malawi, when they began to speak about the spirituality of Medjugorje. The idea was to give to the Malawians something similar. Then, there was a phone call from Great Britain. A very wealthy businessman, who wanted to do this first in his own country, was looking for a similar landscape to that in Medjugorje, but he could not find it. Then he found such a place in Malawi, and he proposed a donation for the launching of the works. We understood that Our Lady wanted us to have such a place in our own country. We then went to ask for permission from our archbishop, which he granted, because he had a positive attitude towards Medjugorje.
In what phase is the project of the building of the Shrine now?
The Stations of the Cross, and the Cross on our mountain - the same as that on Krizevac - are already finished. The foundations of the church, identical to the church in Medjugorje, are laid. The donor came with us on this pilgrimage, and he wants to continue to finance the construction.
Medjugorje is not only the visible part of it. There is also the spirituality. How can this be transmitted to your country?
The building of this centre will deepen our spirituality. I have seen how strong the spirituality is here. I believe that we can transmit this experience to Malawi. The difficulty for the believers is how to live the Word of God in their own lives. The building of the Centre will help them to deepen their faith and to come back to God. The Catholics in my country are scattered and exposed to attacks, and the Centre may help them to be more united.
You are speaking about Medjugorje with very special feelings. How do you see Medjugorje in the context of the Universal Church and of its attitude towards this place?
The Church will be the last to pronounce a judgment about Medjugorje. In the meantime, the experience of the faithful is essential. However, I see that the attitude of the Church is positive, because it doesn't prevent anyone from coming. On the contrary, the Church allows people to go to Medjugorje. Unofficially, we can say that the Church has already accepted Medjugorje. As for the official judgment, we will have to wait some more time… I always think of the words the angel spoke to the Virgin Mary, when he told her not to be afraid. People should have hope and faith. Roused by Our Lady’s words, we need to pray primarily for conversion, because what is happening in Medjugorje also helps the Church to advance. I do not believe that the Church will ever refuse conversions. This is why I believe that, one day, the Church will recognise Medjugorje.
How do you see the messages of the Queen of Peace?
When I heard a visionary speak about Our Lady’s messages, he mentioned fasting, prayer, conversion, the Eucharist and Confession. I was amazed, because this is the same as in Lourdes or in Fatima. These are the same messages as Holy Scripture. We really need someone to remind us how we should live, and Our Lady reminds us of what her Son told us long ago. I do not see anything new in the messages, but I notice that Our Lady is repeating her messages again and again. This signifies that we have to take our faith seriously.
Is there anything you want to add at the end of our conversation?
I would like to thank the parishioners of Medjugorje for their welcome and their kindness, which helped me experience the presence of Our Lady here. Pray for the priests, that they grow in faith and find their way to Jesus through Mary, our Mother.
Interview: Dragan Soldo