Vatican City, 6 November 2014 (VIS) – “I offer a joyful welcome to you who have come from the 'warm heart of Africa', as you make your pilgrimage to Rome, 'the warm heart of the Church'”; thus Pope Francis greets the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi in the written discourse he handed to them this morning as he received them in audience at the end of their five-yearly “ad Limina” visit. He also notes that the effectiveness of their pastoral and administrative efforts is the fruit of your faith as well as of the unity and fraternal spirit that characterise their episcopal conference.
The Holy Father also expresses his 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”, as it is in this institution, which teaches “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. “You yourselves know well the challenges and the value of family life, and, as fathers and shepherds, you are called to nurture, protect and strengthen it in the context of the “family of faith”, which is the Church. … 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. … Thus, by doing everything you can to support, educate and evangelise families, especially those in situations of material hardship, breakdown, violence or infidelity, you will bring inestimable benefit to the Church and all of Malawian society”.
Among the results of this apostolate, it is hoped that there will be “an increase in young men and women who are willing and able to dedicate themselves to the service of others in the priesthood and religious life”, based on “the strong foundations laid by generations of faithful missionaries” and fortified by the evangelising work of local men and women. The Bishop of Rome exhorted the local prelates to be close to their priests and seminarians, loving them “as a father should” and furthering their efforts to guarantee a complete spiritual as well as intellectual and pastoral formation.
The “tragedy” of the limited life expectancy and extreme poverty experienced by the majority of the people of Malawi is another of the Pope's concerns. “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”, he writes, encouraging the bishops to be close to those in distress, to the sick, and especially to the children. “I ask you, particularly, to offer my gratitude to the many men and women who present Christ’s tenderness and love in Catholic healthcare institutions. 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? Our faith in Christ, born of having recognised our own need for Him, He Who has come to heal our wounds, to enrich us, to give us life, to nourish us, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members”.