CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF SIERRA LEONE
Pastoral letter on the Sierra Leone National Elections, November 2012
From: The Catholic Bishops in Sierra Leone
To: The Clergy, Religious and the Catholic Lay Faithful; Religious, Political, and Traditional leaders; the Media, the Judiciary, Law Enforcement Institutions and the Armed Forces
Subject: Towards A Peaceful and Violence Free Elections
Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognized as children of God (Mt. 5: 9).We, the Sierra Leone Catholic Bishops’ Conference would like to issue this Pastoral Letter in view of the forthcoming National General Elections in Sierra Leone. Our pastoral mission as Catholic Bishops of Sierra Leone impels us to speak to you for the welfare of the citizens and the interest of our nation. In keeping with this mission and aware of our responsibility in the life of this nation, we offer this moral guidance on the grounds that the Church and the political community, though autonomous and independent of each other, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of all human beings (Vatican II: GS 72.2).
Sentiments of Gratitude
We salute, in a special way, all our Sierra Leonean brothers and sisters for the great sacrifices they make every day for the progress of our country. Notwithstanding the challenges of life, you live in hope of a better tomorrow. We honour you and express to you our sentiments of gratitude and appreciation.
We also acknowledge the efforts of the International Community and People of Goodwill for supporting our development initiatives and for guaranteeing the maintenance of peace and stability in this country.
The Unity of Sierra Leone
We particularly call on all Sierra Leoneans to preserve the unity of this nation and in a spirit of service and generosity, engage in political life with love for God and for the common good. This is the call to practice Christ’s commandment to “love one another” (Jn. 13:34). As citizens we all have the heavy responsibility of consolidating the fundamental values that constitute the greatness of nations. These values are: patriotism of citizens, civic right and responsibility and common desire to build a great nation (cf. Benedict XVI: Deus Caritas Est No. 28). These values are the requirement of our faith and of our duty as citizens. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life” (CCC 1913 – 1915).
Freedom to Exercise Electoral Franchise
We acknowledge that the Church is involved in political process but is not partisan. In other words, the Church cannot champion the cause of any candidate or political party. Our cause is the defense of our country and its citizens inspired by fundamental moral principles which are essential for every authentic human living.
We therefore call upon the citizens of Sierra Leone to take part in the national elections in order to exercise their democratic right and freedom and to choose the leaders who would represent and serve national interests to the best of their abilities. We would like to remind the citizens of the protection of the fundamental freedom of assembly and association which is guaranteed in our national constitution. (cf. s. 26 (1) of Act No. 6 of 1991).
We however advise that while you exercise your democratic freedom to vote and to be voted for, it is important to judge a party on its overall policy regarding the key values of the gospel such as promoting life, human dignity, justice, fostering peace and good governance. It is also very important to look carefully into the fine points of every party’s manifesto. While we may wish that the electorate evaluate its choices on objective grounds, the fact is that most Sierra Leoneans still vote on the basis of deep-felt loyalties. Too often, the identifying factors are: tribe, region, language or simply unshakable historical or geographic affiliations.
We are convinced that participation in political life should be inspired by fundamental moral principles which are essential for every man and woman. Our purpose is to help the electorate form their consciences in accordance with truth. A well formed conscience does not permit one to vote for a political candidate or program which contradicts the thesis that we are citizens in one united country, created by God; and that no region, tribe or person or political party can be greater than “…the land that we love, our Sierra Leone”.
We hold it to be true that elections should represent a platform for the expression of a people’s political decisions, and they are a sign of legitimacy for the exercise of power. They provide a privileged opportunity for healthy and serene public political debate, marked by respect for divergence of political opinions and different political groupings. If conducted well, elections call forth and encourage real and active participation by citizens in political and social life. Failure to respect the national constitution, the law or outcome of the vote, when elections have been free and fair and transparent, would signal a grave failure in governance and a lack of competence in the administration of public affairs (cf. Benedict XVI: Africae Munus 81).
In light of the foregoing considerations,
- We call on all Catholic men and women, especially those who are of voting age, to strongly reject all acts of violence, unnecessary provocations, hate speech, various forms of fraud that distort results, as well as anything that can lead to destabilization and disorder.
- We encourage all political parties and supporters to accept the results or outcome of the elections.
- We exhort the political, administrative, civil and traditional authorities to work together for the maintenance of peace and the National Electoral Commission for the conduct of fair and transparent elections.
- We urge the law enforcement institutions and armed forces to safeguard, to honour and to be loyal to this country and its constitution, to protect life and property and to maintain political neutrality inherent in their duties.
- We appeal to presidential candidates, leaders of political parties and other candidates, i.e. Members of Parliament, District Chairpersons, District Councilors, City Mayors, etc., to respect the electoral process, to preserve peace, to uphold the interest of the Sierra Leonean people and to see themselves in this pluralistic election as competitors, not enemies. “An authentic democracy, which respects pluralism, is one of the principal routes which the Church travels together with the people. Being engaged in the democratic struggle according to the Spirit of the Gospel is the sign of a Church which participates in the promotion of the rule of law everywhere in Africa” (John Paul II: Ecclesia in Africa No. 112).
- We invite all to safeguard and promote the common good of the country
- We ask all Catholics, particularly the youths, to make a commitment to uphold, teach and to put into practice the content of this pastoral letter. We strongly enjoin our priests, religious and catechists, especially in their sermons, homilies and conferences to promote a spirit on unity, reconciliation, tolerance and peace.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sierra Leone and the Queen of Peace, continue to accompany this beloved country by her prayers and intercessions.
Most Rev. Patrick D. Koroma, Bishop of Kenema and President of Conference
Most Rev. Edward Tamba Charles, Archbishop of Freetown and Vice President of Conference
Most Rev. Charles A. M. Campbell, Bishop of Bo
Very Rev. Fr. Natale Paganelli, Apostolic Administrator of Makeni
31st July, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola