Addressing the bishops from the southeast African nation of Malawi on Thursday, Pope Francis noted his gratitude to their people for their commitment to family and solidarity. “I wish … to express my appreciation for the admirable spirit of the Malawian people, who, though faced with many serious obstacles in terms of development, economic progress and standards of living, remain strong in their commitment to family life,” Pope Francis said Nov. 6 at the Vatican. “It is in the family, with its unique capacity to form each member, particularly the young, into persons of love, sacrifice, commitment and fidelity, that the Church and society in Malawi will find the resources necessary to renew and build up a culture of solidarity.” Malawi is a small nation in southern Africa, bordered by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Its 16.4 million people live on an adjusted per capita GDP of less than $860 annually, and over a third of GDP comes from agriculture. Some 80 percent of the population are Christian (20 percent Catholic), and around 15 percent are Muslim. Pope Francis commended the nation's bishops for their good works, calling them the fruit of “faith as well as of the unity and fraternal spirit that characterize your episcopal conference.” He reminded them that “you are called to nurture, protect and strengthen (family life) in the context of the 'family of faith', which is the Church.” “Indeed, for Christians, family life and ecclesial vitality depend on and reinforce each other.” Because of this, he said, “it is essential that you keep always before you the needs, experiences and realities of families in your efforts to spread the Gospel. There is no aspect of family life — childhood and youth; friendship, engagement and marriage; spousal intimacy, fidelity and love; interpersonal relations and support — which is excluded from the healing and strengthening touch of God’s love, communicated through the Gospels and taught by the Church.” The Pope urged that there “is scarcely a greater commitment that the Church can make to the future of Malawi — and indeed, to her own development — than that of a thorough and joyful apostolate to families.” Malawian society, as well as the Church, will be benefited by “doing everything you can to support, educate and evangelize families, especially those in situations of material hardship, breakdown, violence or infidelity,” Pope Francis assured the bishops. By educating and evangelizing families, young people will be enabled to dedicate themselves to others in priesthood or religious life, he reflected. “As the Church in Malawi continues to mature, it is imperative that the strong foundations laid by generations of faithful missionaries be built upon by local men and women evangelizers.” Pope Francis exhorted the bishops to be close to their priests, because “they need to know that you love them as a father should,” adding that an essential means of doing this is to give seminarians “an ever more complete human formation — upon which an integrated spiritual, intellectual and pastoral training depend.” Regarding youth, Pope Francis again turned to the importance of pastoral care for families, saying that preaching “Christ with conviction and love” will promote “the stability of family life and contribute to a more just and virtuous culture … do not hesitate to offer (youth) the truths of our faith and to show them the joy of living out the moral demands of the Gospel.” He called the number of impoverished and those who have a short life expectancy a tragedy, and added that “my thoughts go to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and particularly to the orphaned children and parents left without love and support as a result of this illness.” Life expectancy in Malawi is 60 years, and in 2012 it was estimated that nearly 11 percent of Malawian adults have HIV/AIDS. In these face of this, Pope Francis urged the bishops to be close to the sick, and to healthcare workers. “The service which the Church offers to the sick, through pastoral care, prayer, clinics and hospices, must always find its source and model in Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us. Indeed, how else could we be followers of the Lord if we did not personally engage in ministry to the sick, the poor, the dying and the destitute?” “I thank you for being close to those who are ill and all the suffering, offering them the loving presence of their shepherd.”
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