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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 18:09 GMT
Malawi's Catholic Church in tug of war
Crowd at mass held by rebel priest
Large crowds gather for outdoor services
By Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre

Malawi's biggest church, the Roman Catholic Church, is being threatened by an ordained priest who has broken away.

Hundreds of believers are each week flocking to his newly formed ministry - the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Ministry.

Church leaders have, as expected, already reacted angrily to the development.

They have suspended its founder, the Reverend Father Mark Kambalazaza, and have threatened to excommunicate any congregation member seen praying with the 'rebel' priest.

Pleas against defection

Every Sunday after sermons preachers are warning congregation against being taken by the 'rebel' cause.

But Rev Kambalazaza remains undaunted.

Rev Mark Kambalazaza
Rev Mark Kambalazaza
He told BBC News Online church leaders were missing the point.

He said his aim was not to break up the church, which cerebrates 100 years of ecumenical work in Malawi next year.

"I only want to bring in certain modes of worship that are taboo to our conservative leadership in the church," he said.

Charismatic element

Among them are ritual healing prayers and praying in tongues - a charismatic mode of praying where believers, said to be possessed by the Holy Spirit, speak in unintelligible words.

Rev Kambalazaza said he does not see why the Catholic Church is hard against these things yet it also believes in the Holy Spirit which possesses believers and accords them with the healing power.

All eight bishops in Malawi have agreed not to allow Rev Kambalazaza's ministry to operate in their dioceses.


Father Robert Maungulu, secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, said Rev Kambalazaza was suspended in 1999 for breaking the cannon laws of the church and cannot be allowed to practice using the church's name.

"As a suspended priest he cannot carry out ecumenical duties, let alone use the name 'Catholic' in his ministry," he said.

Rev Kambalazaza said he was suspended by Bishop Allesandro Assolari of the lakeshore diocese of Mangochi when he started his charismatic mode of praying: praying for the sick and speaking in tongues.

"These things are there in the Bible and in the church, I don't understand why church leaders are frowning on them," he said.

Government opposition

Government authorities seem to have thrown their weight behind the church establishment.

The Office of the Registrar General, which registered Rev Kambalazaza's ministry in June, has made an about-turn and de-registered it, saying it cannot operate using the word 'Catholic' in its name.

"Our population is highly illiterate and so having two churches using a single generic name can cause confusion," says a statement from the Office of the Registrar General.

The Office of the Registrar General denies being arm-twisted to de-register the church, claiming that the church was wrongly registered in the first place.

But Rev Kambalazaza suspects the Office of the Registrar General has been manipulated.

He, however, remains unfazed.

He said he is going ahead to formally launch the church at a ceremony in Blantyre with or without registration.

He denied suggestions that he would be breaking the law by launching the church without registration.

"Under the Malawi Constitution everyone is has freedom of worship and association; we are only exercising our constitutional freedom," he said.

Growing following

As the politics surrounding the new church continues it seems more and more people are people are being convinced by Rev Kambalazaza's preaching.

Top Blantyre executive Patricia Chaziya-Pindeni said she is an adherent of Rev Kambalazaza's teachings.

"We need such a priest; in other countries the Catholic Church has already opened up to such ministries, why not here?" she said.

It is such high-profile adherents who keeps the fire burning at the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Ministry.

"I don't have money of my own but it is the believers who donate something when they are taken by my sermons," Rev Kambalazaza said.

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See also:

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