In his ad limina address to the bishops of Zambia on Monday, Pope Francis urged them to continue to build upon the efforts of missionaries to the country, a quarter of whose people are Catholic, and who are nearly all Christian. “Looking back to the beginnings of the Church in Zambia, it is well known that the rich deposit of faith brought by missionary religious from lands overflowing with growth prompted your forebears to respond with their own works of charity, whose effects are felt throughout your country today,” the Pope said Nov. 17 at the Vatican. “Despite the sometimes painful meeting of ancient ways with the new hope that Christ the Lord brings to all cultures, the word of faith took deep root, multiplying a hundredfold, and a new Zambian society transformed by Christian values emerged. It is at once evident how plentiful the spiritual harvest in your vast land already is — blessed with Catholic-run clinics, hospitals and schools, many parishes alive and growing across Zambia, a wide diversity of lay ministries, and substantial numbers of vocations to the priesthood.” A southern African nation, Zambia was colonized in the 19th century; it is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. It has 11 dioceses, and has been relatively untroubled by war since its independence. Pope Francis noted that today, “Zambians continue to seek a happy and fulfilling future in the Church and in society, despite great challenges which militate against stability in social and ecclesial life, in particular for families. When family life is endangered, then the life of faith is also put at risk. As you yourselves have recounted, many — especially the poor in their struggle for survival — are led astray by empty promises in false teachings that seem to offer quick relief in times of desperation.” He urged that the bishops support the family, “for it is here that the Church’s well-being in Zambia must grow and be fostered. I ask you, with your priests, to form strong Christian families, who — by your catechizing — will know, understand and love the truths of the faith more deeply, and thus be protected from those currents which may tempt them to fall away.” “Affirm Catholic couples in their desire for fidelity in conjugal life and in their yearning to provide a stable spiritual home for their children, helping them to nurture the life of virtue in the family,” he exhorted. The bishops, he said, are to be close to young people so as to help them find their vocation, whether it is in marriage or “the celibate vocations to the sacred priesthood or religious life .. encourage young Catholics by living lives of virtue to experience the liberating gift of chastity as adults.” “In a special way invite those who have grown lukewarm and feel lost to return to the full practice of the faith. As pastors of the flock, do not forget to seek out the weakest members of Zambian society, among whom are the materially poor and those afflicted with AIDS.” The prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS in the nation is around 13 percent, and the adjusted per capita GDP is $1,700. “Despite all that the Church in Zambia faces,” Pope Francis said, “it is a time not to be discouraged but rather to offer the true freedom which only the Lord can give, sustained by the sacraments.” “I encourage you to remain sensitive as shepherds to the spiritual and human needs of your closest coworkers: never tire of being kind and firm fathers to your priests, helping them resist materialism and the standards of the world, while recognizing their just needs. Continue also to promote the treasure of religious life in your Dioceses, so that outstanding examples may be brought forth of Zambian men and women seeking to love the Lord with undivided hearts.” The Pope noted the Oct. 28 death of Zambia's president, Michael Sata, and invited the bishops to “continue working with your political leaders for the common good, deepening your prophetic witness in defence of the poor in order to uplift the lives of the weak.” “In all things, cooperate with the graces of the Holy Spirit, in unity of belief and purpose,” he concluded. “The Lord of the harvest is preparing to send the rains he promises in due season; for you are cultivating his fields until he returns at harvest time. Until then, knowing well how much your work demands personal sacrifice, patience and love, draw on the faith and sacrifice of the Apostles to whose threshold you have come, in order to return strengthened to the Church in Zambia.”
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