In the video capturing his May prayer intention for Africa, Pope Francis said: “We see [the continent’s] joie de vivre, and, above all, we see grounds for hope in Africa’s rich intellect, cultural, and religious heritage.” An example is the small nation of Zambia, which—for good reasons—rarely makes the headlines. The international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need reports in this interview on a fact-finding mission to Zambia to survey the Zambian Church‘s strengths and needs.
In Zambia, priests perform in ‘exemplary’ way
Tony Zender, who oversees projects in a number of English-speaking African countries for international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need, recently visited Zambia. It is a politically stable nation, though it has far to go in terms of development and lifting its people out of poverty.
By Maria Lozano
What challenges confront the Church in Zambia?
The Church, with its 11 dioceses, is present among the people in with many social initiatives in addition to its pastoral work. It is coping with the arrival of Islam. A bigger concern are evangelical sects that preach the following message: “If you come to us, you will already be rewarded in the here-and-now, and the more you pray, the richer you will become.” This is problematic because many Catholics are also lost to them. However, the Zambian Church is trying to respond.
On a practical level, the local Church needs support for the construction of parishes and the purchase of cars and motorcycles. There is also a great need for Catholic education, catechetical training, and spiritual formation. We are also often asked to fund projects designed to promote and protect the Catholic family.
The role of lay catechists appears to be crucial
Training lasts for two years, and during that time the catechists reside in small individual houses with their families. While the men are prepared for their service as catechists, the women are prepared to become educators, so they can also teach catechism in addition to certain crafts, like tailoring. Priests are often only able to visit parishes for a few days every three months, or sometimes for only a few days in the year—hence, the lay catechists are called to do the work of evangelization in the priests’ absence.
They care for the people and, along with their families, they also serve as a role model. Their example of selfless dedication to their work on behalf of the Church is also an important source of motivation for some of the priests.
In particular, ACN supports a catechetical training center in the north of the country, in the Diocese of Mansa. We have recently provided the catechists with bicycles so that they are mobile; we will also help with the renovation of the center, because the buildings are in poor shape.
Can the people themselves not cover this kind of expenditure?
That is a problem. The Church is doing its best to teach the people that every lay person is called upon to support the Church, also financially, and that the situation today is different from the past when then were still many foreign missionaries were still present and things were handed down from above. Now the Church needs the help of all the faithful. The Church is more and more becoming a local Church. This is a good and necessary process, but it is naturally associated with a change of attitudes. The people must learn that they have been called upon by the Lord to support the Church, and that every person, rich or poor, should make a contribution. One should consider not only the financial aspect, but every sacrifice that one can make for the Church.
What impressed you in particular on this trip?
Something that impressed me again and again was the exemplary way in which some priests perform their service. Sometimes they live in places where there is no electricity, where perhaps they have to draw running water from a tank, and where sometimes they have to live completely on their own. They are setting an example, in the sense that they are facing up to their situation.
In 2016, ACN Aid spent more than $600,000 on projects to help support the Church in Zambia.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international papal charity, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org(AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)