Malawi’s bishops on Sunday released a pastoral statement on the Year of Mercy, Catholic social teaching, and its relevance for their country, reaffirming respect for the sanctity of life amid a pro-abortion push.

“In a country little by little marked by trends in the declining respect for human life, the Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Our belief in the sanctity of human life and the inherent dignity of the human person is the foundation of all the principles of social teaching.”

Abortion rights activists with international support are working to legalize more abortions in Malawi, saying legal restrictions drive women to commit illegal abortions that are unsafe for the women’s health.

“Through the agents of the culture of death, campaigning for abortion legislation, human life is under direct attack,” the bishops lamented. “In these circumstances, we wish to reaffirm that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every society is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.”

The bishops’ words come in the Episcopal Conference of Malawi’s March 13 pastoral statement "Mercy of God as a Path of Hope".

They reflected on the Church’s Year of Mercy, saying Christ is “the face of the Father’s mercy” and that mercy is “the wellspring of Christian joy, serenity, and peace.”

They encouraged those who undergo the “tormenting experience” of abortion to seek God’s mercy.

The pastoral statement reflected on many other difficulties in Malawi: persistent hunger, corruption, a lack of security, poor economic development, and tribal divisions.

At least 2.8 million people face hunger and food shortages in Malawi. Poor rains have had a large impact on maize, a staple crop relied upon by many Malawian subsistence farmers.

Malawi’s bishops see poverty in their country as “a direct consequence of wrong economic choices made by those in power.” They said they are “deeply worried by the bad performance of our economy” and the “continuous presentation of unrealistic indicators” of economic growth.

They criticized the Malawian government for a lack of “transformative leadership,” saying that “God recommends leadership that is visionary, transformative, empowering, caring, serving, protective, people-centered and obedient to Him.”

“As your pastors, we cannot sit back and watch in the face of shrinking standards or lack of public service delivery, increasing gap between the rich and the poor, lack of fiscal discipline and misplaced priorities in the prevailing tough times which call for tough measures.”

They rejected fatalism in the face of Malawi’s problems: “In this Holy Year, it is our task to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery of the modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed.”

The bishops also spoke against the advocacy of homosexuality, while also voicing respect for individuals. They condemned “in strongest terms” those who incite violence against homosexuals and against those who perform homosexual acts.

“The Jubilee of Mercy offers all sinners, including those that indulge in homosexual acts the possibility of experiencing God’s mercy especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

Malawi’s bishops said the family and marriage as a union of a man and a woman is “under direct attack from those campaigning for homosexual rights and homosexual unions.” Homosexual orientation is not sinful in itself, but same-sex sex acts are “objectively evil and totally unacceptable” regardless of orientation, they explained.

They criticized the government for declining to prosecute homosexual acts under law, saying the government has faced pressure from international bodies, donors, and local human rights campaigners.

“As pastors, we find this path very unfortunate. It is an act of betrayal on the part of those in power to sell our country to foreign practices and tendencies contrary to the will of God because of money,” they said.