interviewBy Alvine Kapitako
New Era journalist, Alvine Kapitako spoke to the Secretary General of the Namibian Catholic Bishops' Conference, Father Thomas Manninezhath, on the Namibian Roman Catholic Church's contribution to the liberation struggle and its role in the present day Namibia, as well as the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
There are rarely media reports on the church's activities in the country. What is the role of the Roman Catholic Church in an independent Namibia?
"The visibility of the church in the development process, as you rightly said, is not as visible as it should be. Now we should make a difference here. In pre-independent Namibia, the situation was entirely different then. The church, and all of us together irrespective of anything, worked together. There was a common problem, so we all worked together. After independence things are different. But the church is growing, it is doing better than before independence, if you just [count] the number of schools, hospitals and clinics. We have 40 kindergartens, 27 hostels, 19 primary schools and seven secondary schools. The problem is whatever things we do, as you mentioned, are not coming out in the media. But, at the same time, the non-church faith organisations get coverage. The media only projects what the president, prime minister and other authorities are doing. But our mission is not publicity and we don't worry about that."
The Roman Catholic Church has one of the biggest membership bases. Yet there are reports of the mushrooming of charismatic churches. Why, in your view, do we have mushrooming of churches and what is the Catholic Church doing to ensure it doesn't lose its members to the 'new' churches?
"[Laughs] ...Yes, the mushrooming of churches. We had a meeting with His Excellency the President [Hifikepunye Pohamba] last week. The President also spoke of the same issue, yes the churches. I was in Okahandja and I could see so many churches are coming up. Why the mushrooming of churches? I would say we have the freedom. Thank God we have a beautiful Constitution and the Constitution promises the freedom of religion. Of course, it is the responsibility of Government to also check who are the people coming in and establishing the churches. The Roman Catholic Church does not do anything to control the mushrooming of churches. We don't want religious rivalry, no, that is not our task. We encourage our members to live according to their faith and follow the gospel values and be faithful to our Catholic teachings. Some people leave the church because of promises and once they are not fulfilled they come back."
Is there room for the different doctrines and how are Christians supposed to distinguish between genuine and deceiving doctrines?
"How do we distinguish which is the right doctrine and which is the wrong doctrine. Each church has its own doctrines. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has its own doctrines, the teachings from the Holy Father [Pope in Rome]. But it does not only come from one person, the Holy Father cannot do everything. But there is always a group of people highly educated, moved by the Spirit. They make decisions for all of us. We teach our people the teaching of the church that is based on the Bible. The members of the Catholic Church clearly know what are the true teachings, if somebody else comes, let's say false prophets, the members of the Catholic Church will know that is not the teaching from the Roman Catholic Church. If not sure members would go to the parish priest and if the priest does not know, he will go to his bishop."
Church is not just about preaching the gospel but also about caring for the destitute and vulnerable members of society. What is the Catholic Church doing to help the society at large in this regard?
"Absolutely, absolutely. A person who has no bread to eat, bread is the gospel for him. Even if you read the gospel also, the message is 'faith in action'. That means the preaching is not enough. The Roman Catholic Church, I would say, is the forerunner in taking care of the destitute and less fortunate. A part of the income of the church or parish must be used to take care of the needy. We have houses taking care of orphans, the elderly and we give people education and health. The church is fully equipped for that. The numbers of learners in schools are not only Catholics. We never ever restrict our services to the Catholics."
There was a report last year that churches are the wealthiest organisations in the country. What poverty alleviation and employment creation programmes does your church have?
"Yes, the report was there. First Capital [Namibian economic research company] made the analysis and they sent me a copy of the analysis. Then the report appeared in the newspaper. It was questionable and we challenged that. Our report will come later. The statements are not correct. The church is very wealthy, but wealth in what sense? Of course, we may have the property or we may have the cash in the bank - even so it was wrong. They said that wealth is not being shared and in the church's role in the development of rural areas. If you go to all the regions of Namibia, everywhere the Catholic presence is there. We try our best to bring development to those areas. Maybe we are not perfect but we try our best. If the church gets wealth, that wealth is not for me, it belongs to the whole church here. The church distributes wealth, depending on the needs of our people. We are aware of the situation of poverty and unemployment, we try our best to help the government by working together. If we have no money we approach others for funding, and we distribute that funding to the people. So we try our best to address poverty alleviation and job creation in the country."
About 90 percent of Namibians are Christian yet on a daily basis the newspapers report of heinous crimes committed, not to mention sexual immorality, drunkenness, and the list is endless. In your view why do Namibians not portray the culture of Christianity in their daily lives?
"To practise religion, means living a life like that of Christ. You are talking about 90 percent of Namibians being Christians but how many [of those] are true Christians? Is a Christian about being baptised? By that you are just initiated but [one must] live a life like that of Christ, following the Bible. If all the 90 percent were living that way Namibia would be a heaven, a paradise. The issue is we are just Christians for namesake but we are not living our true Christian life. All those things are taking place because people do not care for one another."
Last week the social media buzz was the 'gay list'. What is the church's view on the issue of homosexuality?
"The church's teachings are very clear. The Roman Catholic Church's view on these issues is very clear, the basic principle is that it is not permissible."
Some countries have already implemented laws that condone same sex marriages, should Namibia not implement such laws?
"From what I understand the Government is not for that at this stage. Marriage is the intimate union of the male and the female. I mean it is not the pleasure, it is the intimacy, in the church we say sacramental union. That intimacy is what brings new life."
Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he would step down on February 28. Does the Namibian Roman Catholic Church have a preferential candidate whom it wishes as the next Pope, perhaps an African?
"[Laughs] Of course, but you must understand very clearly, the Pope is a spiritual leader. It is not like any other political [head]. The ways and means of electing the Pope are spiritual. [The College of Cardinals elects the Pope]. We have 118 Cardinals from all over the world. They come together, [in the Papal Conclave in] the Vatican with no connection with the outside world. They pray and cast ballots, two in the morning, two in the afternoon and after each ballot they burn the ballot papers. But there are eight Cardinals from Africa including one from South Africa and we would like one to be from Africa. We will be happy, but that is not our choice. It is completely open to the Holy Spirit. But when the decision comes we accept it."
And which of the eight African Cardinals do you think is suitable for the Holy See?
"No, I don't think that, ah ... as I told you it's extremely difficult. In Namibia, and in Africa, we would like to have an African Pope, great, and everybody says so because of the Catholic population and the church growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America.