In tributes pouring in following his death, people from all walks of life are describing the fallen Archbishop of Lilongwe Tarcisius Ziyaye as humble, forthright, inspirational and a fighter who served his country well, including beyond the pulpit.
News of the archbishop’s death at a hospital in Namibia on Monday was received with shock with President Lazarus Chakwera and Vice-President Saulos Chilima paying their respective tributes through statements.
In his tribute, Chakwera said he received the news with shock and extended condolences to the bereaved family as well as the Catholic faithful.
Mourned the President: “His faith in Christ, belief in humanity and courage in pursuing justice for all have been an inspiration to me and so many.”
Chilima and his wife Mary, both of them staunch Catholics and recently attended a Church function graced by Ziyaye, said they were “mortified and immobilised with deep grief” to learn of his death.
Reads the statement: “You were an amazing shepherd and you sought and fought for all God’s children with utmost zeal and undiminishing passion.
“You stood for the truth and defended the weak and the powerless against all earthly excesses of power and privilege.
“Our deepest prayer is that from the sanctuary of God’s amazing kingdom, you continue to pray for our nation never to lose the democratic gains for which you fought with all your essence.”
On his part, former president (1994 to 2004) Bakili Muluzi said in an interview that he was shocked and saddened to learn about the passing on of Ziyaye.
In an interview, he said: “I met him several times when he was Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Blantyre. He was such a very pious person, very nice priest.
“He was part of pastoral letters Catholic bishops wrote when I was privileged to govern the nation. I treated such letters as pieces of advice to government. They helped to shape this nation.”
Muluzi, who said he called chairperson of Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) Archbishop Thomas Msusa to offer his condolences, described the death of Ziyaye as a great loss to the nation.
Former president (2012-2014) Joyce Banda, in a separate interview, said what came to her mind first when she learnt about Ziyaye’s death, was how, together with his fellow bishops, he fought to change Malawi’s political landscape.
She described the deceased as peace-loving, recalling that when he was being ordained bishop on May 23 1992, founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda attended the ceremony at the peak of the fight for plural politics.
Banda said: “In later years, you know the circumstances that made me become president. He was among the Catholic bishops that came at Area 12 residence in Lilongwe to encourage me.
“The nation has lost a great man. This is sad news. Malawians should give him a befitting send -off.”
Immediate-past president Peter Mutharika, through his personal secretary Linda Salanjira, said he would get back to The Nation with a reaction. He was yet to give one by press time.
Public Affairs Committee (PAC) executive secretary Robert Phiri said in an interview that Ziyaye served as chairperson of the quasi-religious institution in the mid-1990s and served well.
He said: “He was very influential in the organisation because it was under his leadership that he set up the PAC secretariat since the organisation had to transform itself from a background of political transition to a new era of multiparty system of government.
“He will be remembered for negotiating funding for PAC to become relevant in the new dispensation since the then pressure groups UDF [United Democratic Front], Aford [Alliance for Democracy] and others which were part of PAC had evolved into political parties.”
Phiri also recalled that Ziyaye was instrumental in facilitating dialogue on the parliamentary boycott of 1997 led by then opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and Aford in protest of the passing of the Press Trust Reconstruction Act.
“Moving on, he also facilitated dialogue on the controversial Section 65 and budget stalemate. He will be remembered as a forthright and honest person the country has never seen,” he said.
In his tribute, Martin Chiphwanya, former national secretary of Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), who worked closely with Ziyaye during his tenure, said the archbishop’s death was a huge loss to the nation.
He said: “He was an inspirational figure who not only preached the Word of God, but also fought for democracy, good governance and rule of law. His death has created a huge vacuum; he will be greatly missed.”
In a notice dated December 14 2020, ECM secretary general the Reverend Father Henry Saindi said Ziyaye, ordained priest on August 14 1977, died in Namibia where he was receiving medical treatment. He was 71.
In an interview later, he said when a bishop dies, eight days after burial, a team of the bishop’s college of consultants, meets.
Said Saindi: “The most senior priest in this college of consultants summons this meeting.
“This archdiocese administrator can be appointed from among this college or from outside. When a bishop dies, the post of vicar general falls out because it is linked to a serving bishop. So, the administrator becomes the one to take charge of the archdiocese or diocese.”
Monsignor Patrick Thawale, the current PAC chairperson, was vicar general of the Archdiocese of Lilongwe during Ziyaye’s tenure.
Saindi added that the college of consultants is a team appointed by any bishop who consults it anytime before making a decision.
He said that at a later stage, an apostolic administrator is appointed by Rome, Italy, headquarters of the Catholic Church.
On the process to appoint a bishop or archbishop for a diocese or archdiocese that lost one, Saindi said it is a long one and only the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope, makes that appointment after thorough consultations.
He cited an example of Dedza Diocese whose bishop died and is still being led by an administrator.
Described as humble by many, Ziyaye was appointed auxiliary bishop of Diocese of Dedza on November 26 1991 before becoming bishop of Lilongwe on May 4 1993. On January 23 2001, he became archbishop of the Archdiocese of Blantyre.
From July 3 2013, Ziyaye was appointed archbishop of the newly declared Archbishop of Lilongwe, a position he served until his death on Monday.