Once every five years the different Bishops Conferences from around the world visit the Pope to give an account of their stewardship and to visit the different Vatican Congregations to report on how they have cared for the People of God in their dioceses. The Bishops of Zambia have just concluded their ‘ad limina’ visit to Pope Francis.
In an address given to the bishops, Pope Francis emphasised the fruits of the labour of missionaries, attention to the family, guidance of the young, care for AIDS sufferers and the need to collaborate with political leaders for the common good. The Pope received the bishops on 17 November as they concluded their ad limina.
The Pope recalls the “rich deposit of faith” brought to Zambia by missionary religious, remarking that “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”. The “plentiful spiritual harvest is evident in the many Catholic-run clinics, hospitals and schools, and parishes throughout Zambia, a wide diversity of lay ministries, and substantial numbers of vocations to the priesthood in a society that has been transformed by Christian values.
The great challenges that pastors face in this moment relate in particular to the family, since, as the prelates affirmed in their meeting with the Pontiff, “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”. Therefore, Francis urges the bishops, alongside their priests, to form solid Christian families through catechesis, who “will know, understand and love the truths of the faith more deeply”, and “affirm Catholic couples in their desire for fidelity in their conjugal life and in their yearning to provide a stable spiritual home for their children”. He also urged them to be close to the young “as they seek to establish and articulate their identity in a disorienting age”. He adds, “Help them to find their purpose in the challenge and joy of co-creation with God that is the vocation to married life … or in the vocations to the priesthood or religious life, which the Church has been given for the salvation of souls”.
“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; for the great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them His friendship, His blessing, His word, the celebration of the Sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith”.
“Never tire of being kind and firm fathers to your priests, helping them resist materialism and the standards of the world, while recognising their just needs. Continue also to promote the treasure of religious life in your dioceses. … In this challenging time after the death of President Sata, I invite you 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”, concludes Pope Francis, reminding the prelates that “the Church’s mission to evangelise never ends: ‘it is imperative to evangelise cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel… Each culture and social group needs purification and growth’”.
The SMA and Zambia
The SMA began working in Zambia in 1973. Fr Michael O’Shea has written a book on the SMA in Zambia [1973 – 2013]. Since 1973, eighty SMA priests and 1 brother have served in the country. From the original seven [Irish] who arrived to begin the ‘mission’ in 1973, SMAs from eight other countries ministered in Ndola, Lusaka, Livingstone and Solwezi dioceses [from Ghana, India, Kenya, Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, Tanzania and Zambia].
Two SMA’s are buried in Francisdale Mission cemetery, alongside local clergy and religious: Brother Brendan Murray [from Dublin, died on 7 March 1996 at the age of 58 and Fr Fergus Conlan who died on 17 January 2006, aged 66. Fr Fergus was the Regional Superior at the time of his death. The founding leader of the SMA mission to Zambia, in January 1973, Fr Sexton Doran, died in Cork on 9 September 2014, aged 81 years. May they rest in peace.
A sign of the progress of the SMA mission in Zambia is evidenced by the fact that today we have Zambian students preparing to be SMA missionaries. There are 15 SMA priests and they are led by Zambian-born Fr Gustave Mukosha assisted by the Deputy Regional Superior, Fr Páraic Kelly, from Cornamona, Co na Gaillimhe.