Pope Francis on Thursday encouraged Christians in the west African nation of Mali to provide a strong witness of the family, and exhorted their bishops to give special attention to the situation of women there. “The Christian witness of the family still needs greater coherence: in your cultural context, also marked by divorce and polygamy, Catholics are called upon to concretely proclaim, through their witness, to the Gospel of life and of the family,” the Pope told the Malian bishops May 7, who were in Rome for their five-yearly ad limina visit. “I also encourage you to continue your pastoral work,” he continued, “paying particular attention to the situation of women: promoting the role of women in society and fighting against abuse and violence toward women is also a way of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who chose to be born of a woman, the Virgin Mary.” Human trafficking and female genital mutilation are both prominent challenges in the Saharan country. Pope Francis began his address by turning “toward the person of Christ in the delicate situation that your country has faced in recent years.” While 90 percent of Malians are Muslim, with equal minorities of Christians and followers of traditional African religions, it has traditionally enjoyed a healthy pluralism, and has a secular government. However, since 2012 there has been armed conflict in the country's north which began with Tuareg separatists but drew the involvement of Islamists, who held portions of the country until French intervention. This conflict, the Pope reflected, has at times “undermined the coexistence between the various sectors of society as well as the harmony between men and women of different religions present in the land of Mali, which is rich with a glorious past, synonymous with admirable traditions among which are tolerance and cohesion. I thank your Episcopal Conference for knowing how to preserve the spirit of interreligious dialogue in this delicate context.” “The common commitment of Christians and Muslims to safeguard the Mali's cultural treasures, especially the large libraries of Timbuktu, patrimony of humanity, is an eloquent example. When you return, I want you to express my nearness, not only to your faithful, but also to your fellow citizens of all social classes and religions, men and women of good will involved in the fight against intolerance and exclusion.” The Pope also expressed his thanks to those Christians who have “spread the culture of solidarity and hospitality” in the face of the conflict, providing education and reconciliation “without consideration of ethnicity or religion.” The situation also calls on Christians “to give an even greater witness to their faith based on unconditional adhesion to the values of the Gospel.” He commended the bishops’ efforts to do this through the translation of Scripture into local languages, as well as the preparation of catechetical texts, saying, “thanks to a solid formation, the lives of the faithful will be even more rooted in faith and strengthened to withstand all threats.” Pope Francis commented that “despite the serious problems facing it, the Church in Mali shows a beautiful dynamic in its work of evangelization, preserving a profound respect of conscience,” adding that Christians are growing in number and fervor, while then discussing the need for a coherent witness to the value of family and of women. He concluded, saying, that “strengthened by the Lord's promise to be with his family until the end of time, I am convinced that despite the difficulties on their path, the Church in Mali will continue to be a testament to hope and peace.”