When it comes to alcohol, Fr. Charles Searson, a Jesuit priest in Zambia for many years, is unequivocal.
“There is a very clear nuance in the Bible,” says Fr. Searson. “Wine is enjoyable –one glass. Too much wine, too much alcohol; too much Whisky and you get drunk, that’s very wrong.” Fr Searson said this in discussion with Vatican Radio. He says that the Bible has both a positive and negative message when it comes to alcohol.
“God gave us wine to make us happy. That’s Psalm 104 verse 15.” He then adds, “St. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians Chapter 5 verse 18 has a clear message: Don’t get drunk.” Put differently, says Fr. Searson, it is not unChristian to drink but very unChristian to get drunk.
Fr. Searson is Zambia’s National Director of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart. It is an international Catholic organisation. The association does not advocate for the prohibition of alcohol but does require of its members the complete abstinence from alcohol, drugs and smoking.
The Zambia Pioneer Association is preparing to host the 5th Pan-African Congres on “Faith and Alcohol” to be held in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, this August. The congress will bring together Pioneer members from Africa and beyond as well as various stakeholders involved in the campaign against alcohol abuse. There will also be nurses, doctors, teachers, politicians and the youth in attendance.
Michael Chanda, a former seminarian and now a secondary school teacher in Zambia is a recovering alcoholic. He now dedicates most of his private time talking to Zambia's youth about alcohol abuse. Michael laments the erosion of a clear distinction between social drinking and what actually is alcoholism.
“Alcohol intake is not bad in itself. It is enjoyable but we (Pioneers) look at the dangerous effects of excessive drinking, and the misery alcohol abuse brings to society. We abstain from alcohol for the purpose of prayer on behalf of those ravaged by the excessive consumption of alcohol,” said Michael.
Alcohol has always been part of life in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is widely available in many traditional ceremonies such as harvest festivals, weddings and funerals. So, alcohol in itself is not Africa’s problem. The biggest challenge is said to come from binge drinking. According to experts, this is drinking too much alcohol in a short space of time with the express intention of getting drunk.
Those in the know also say that binge drinking is the most harmful form of drinking to individuals. This kind of drinking has been associated with fatal accidents; the misjudging of risky situations or just the loss of self-control.
Fr. Searson and his team believe governments in Africa could do more. They refer, for example, to Zambia’s Liquor Licensing Act which regulates the “sale and supply of intoxicating liquors.” They see this law as most often observed in the breach. In Zambia, underage drinkers can easily buy cheap and strong spirits, and pubs sometimes stay open beyond stipulated hours.
“The Catholic Church has a particular role to play in this huge international problem,” says Fr. Searson. As an organisation dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pioneers in Zambia are bringing their spiritual values to the problem.
“We say in some of our local languages in Zambia, “mulilo” to mean fire. We hope the fire of God’s love will apply, to heal; to prevent harm and to educate people that life is good. Life is about love, and there is no need to get drunk in order to be happy,” said Fr. Searson.
(Fr. Paul Samasumo, Vatican Radio)