A Marriage Made in Heaven?

By Peter Manseau
Sunday, March 11, 2007

ONE EVENING JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS, in a modest, two-bedroom apartment on 16th Street NW, the most controversial clergyman in the recent history of the Roman Catholic Church took a moment to sing me a song.

Emmanuel Milingo, 76, the former archbishop of Lusaka, Zambia, popped a cassette into his stereo and smiled as words in Chewa, the language of his youth, filled the living room. A soft murmur kept the rhythm while two interwoven strains chased each other, catching up, then pulling apart."It is my own composition," Milingo said. "Do you hear? Listen: It is my voice, three times."

His hands and chin rising and falling to slightly different tempos, he swayed where he stood, dressed entirely in priestly black. His dark socks tapped on the beige carpet. A heavy pectoral cross clacked like a metronome against the buttons of his suit coat; its silver chain twinkled against his Roman collar.

"Music is too strong as a passion for me," he said as the tape played on. "I do not allow myself to dwell too much on it, because it is so strong."

His other passion, the one I had come to speak to him about, is his church. On that, he does allow himself to dwell, much to the Vatican's chagrin. Not long after moving to Washington from Rome last summer, he was excommunicated for repeatedly and publicly defying the orders of his ecclesiastic superiors. He is living now as a kind of religious refugee.

Nonetheless, he says he has kept the faith.

"I am Catholic from head to foot," Milingo assured me.

He had arranged one of the small rooms in his new apartment as a makeshift chapel, praying there each morning before the sun lighted up his building's view of Rock Creek Park. Pictures of his beloved spiritual protector, Pope John Paul II, hung on nearly every wall.

The only face that appeared as many times throughout the home was the grinning countenance of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, self-proclaimed messiah and founder of the Unification Church. According to Milingo, these belong to the woman who is part symptom and part cause of his excommunication: Maria Sung, a South Korean acupuncturist chosen as his bride by Moon. They have been married for five years, though they have lived together for only the last few months.

With his wife -- a short, sunny woman dressed in

slippers and a no-nonsense sweat suit -- looking on from across the room, Milingo began singing in harmony with one of the musical strains and offering an interpretation after each line. His hands moved through the air deliberately, caressing the words of his hymn.

"Where did Jesus Christ come from?" he sang. "They say He came from the heavens. Where did Jesus Christ come from? Let us go and see."

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