Delving into succession of Archbishop Tarcizio Ziyaye

The Metropolitan Archdiocese of Lilongwe has no leader following the death of Archbishop Tarcizio Ziyaye who was laid to rest on December 19, 2020. He was buried in Maula cathedral.

From the archives: Bishop Mtumbuka greets Cardinal Filoni as late Archbishops Ziyaye and Msus looks on

Ziyaye died in the early hours of December 14, 2020 at a hospital in Namibia. He died of Colon Cancer.

The Vatican is expected to appoint a new archbishop to succeed him. The question is:  Who is likely to become Archbishop for Lilongwe Archdiocese?

The Catholic Church in Malawi will submit names of possible candidates to the Vatican from which the Pope will make an appointment. In our analysis we shall look at several factors that may earn one the appointment.

Malawi has eight dioceses that include two archdioceses of Lilongwe and Blantyre. The others are Chikwawa, Zomba, Mangochi, Dedza, Mzuzu, Karonga. Lilongwe and Dedza have no leadership. Bishop for Dedza, Emmanuel Kanyama died two years ago and till now the Vatican has not yet appointed his successor.

As has been the case before, Ziyaye’s successor is most likely to be one of the existing Malawian bishops. The serving bishops are Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre Archdiocese; Bishop Peter Musikuwa of Chikwawa diocese; Bishop George Tambala of Zomba diocese; Bishop Montfort Stima of Mangochi diocese; Bishop John Ryan of Mzuzu diocese and Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga diocese.

Scenario one is that Vatican may move Msusa to Lilongwe. In that case, the Vatican will have to promote one bishop to the position of Archbishop and move that bishop to Blantyre. Then the Vatican will have to appoint a priest to become bishop to replace the successor of Msusa in Blantyre. This scenario may not happen unless Lilongwe is more challenging than Blantyre Archdiocese.

The second scenario is that the Vatican will not disturb Blantyre but appoint any other bishop and promote him to the position of Archbishop and send him to Lilongwe and then choose a priest to replace that successor bishop. This is most likely to be the situation.

This scenario was the case when Archbishop James Chiona died: The then bishop of Lilongwe the late Ziyaye was promoted and appointed Archbishop of Blantyre and replaced Chiona. And when Ziyaye returned to Lilongwe after it was elevated to the status of Archdiocese, the then bishop of Zomba Thomas Msusa was promoted and appointed Archbishop of Blantyre. Then Vatican had to appoint one of the priests to become bishop for Zomba. The appointed one was Bishop George Tambala who is still bishop for Zomba.

When Bishop for Mangochi diocese Luciano Nervi died, Vatican appointed the then Auxiliary bishop of Blantyre Montfort Stima to become bishop. He is still serving in Mangochi. In Mzuzu diocese, Fr. John Ryan was appointed bishop for the diocese after the death of bishop Joseph Zuza.

The Vatican is yet to appoint a priest to become bishop for Dedza diocese. It is now two years without that appointment.

With the recent death of Ziyaye, Vatican has to make three appointments: first is a bishop to become Archbishop; second a priest to succeed that Archbishop to fill the vacancy that will be left; third to appoint a priest to become bishop for Dedza.

Now among the six bishops, who may be appointed Archbishop for Lilongwe? We shall present our own analysis. We are aware that the Church has many other considerations including prayer and strong life in pastoral work and behavior.

Let us consider seniority in terms of ordination to the episcopate. Going by that, bishop Musikuwa stands out. He was ordained bishop in 2003. Msusa was ordained bishop in 2004 and installed Archbishop for Blantyre in 2014. Bishop Stima was appointed Auxiliary bishop for Blantyre in January 2010 and ordained bishop in April same year. He was appointed bishop for Mangochi in 2013 and installed bishop for Mangochi in 2014.

Bishop Martin Mtumbuka was appointed bishop for Karonga diocese in July 2010 and ordained bishop in November same year. Bishop Tambala became bishop for Zomba in 2016. Bishop Ryan became bishop for Mzuzu in 2016. So, looking at the years of service, bishop Musikuwa shines in that category followed by Stima.

Another criterion is to consider the hierarchy of the bishops at the Episcopal Conference of Malawi. Their hierarchy starts with Msusa as President of the ECM followed by Mtumbuka as deputy then came the late Ziyaye who was followed by Musikuwa then Stima then Tambala then Ryan and Monsignor Chithonje of Dedza diocese. Going by this criterion then bishop Mtumbuka from Karonga stands out as a possible candidate to head Lilongwe. In this criterion, it means that Mtumbuka is second in command in terms of leading the Catholic church in Malawi and surely that kind of leader is likely to lead an archdiocese.

In any case, in few years, Mtumbuka will become President of the ECM replacing Msusa who took over from the late Ziyaye. Being vice President of the ECM who is to take over from Msusa soon qualifies him as a possible Archbishop for Lilongwe. Vatican will have to promote and appoint him Archbishop for Lilongwe. Vatican will then have to appoint a priest either from Karonga diocese or  any other diocese to become bishop for Karonga.

However, it must be emphasized that it is not a rule that a vice ECM President must lead an archdiocese. The late bishop Zuza was president of the ECM while he was a mere bishop for Mzuzu.

Mtumbuka is also known for speaking out openly against the government. He is a bishop who does not mince words. He is regarded as a voice for the voiceless.

Bishops Tambala and Ryan also qualify in their own right. Both are missionaries. Tambala is Carmelite bishop while Ryan is a bishop from Society of St. Patrick. As missionaries, they are exposed to more community life as compared to diocesan bishops. Religious priests and bishops are also regarded as bookworms. They undergo vigorous training. This kind of training plays an advantage when they are appointed in big positions. Take note that Archbishop Msusa is also a religious bishop; he belongs to Montfort Fathers Congregation.

Usually Vatican appointments come with a shock and surprises. Sometimes people that are chosen are those that one never thought of. This is like the calling of David in the Holy Bible. Prophet Samuel thought Jesse’s first son was the one called by God but he was not. It was David who was in the bush keeping animals who was called and anointed to the surprise of all his brothers and even his father.

God also appointed Cyrus, a pagan king to lead the Israelites to the shock of the Israelites themselves who even questioned God for that decision. But God told them not to question Him.

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1 year ago


1 year ago

Zisiyeni katolika ndimmodzi

Kabwafu wagwa nayo
Kabwafu wagwa nayo
1 year ago

Just appoint Dausi, he is catholic , attended seminary , he always wears a cross, speaks diabolic English , knows some Latin words! What more do you want? I vote for the minister emeritus!!

Kudya katatu patsiku
Kudya katatu patsiku
1 year ago

I volunteer to be the next bishop of Lilongwe

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