by Fr. Jim Kent, OFM Conv.
For many Zambians the joy of the Gospel is a way of life. Whether friars, sisters, seculars, or lay people, there is a joyous spirit that seems utterly infectious.
It's expressed in the vibrant liturgies I experienced on Sundays at Queen of Peace and Sacred Heart parishes, where the choirs swayed, clapped, and sang with exultant praise, and the preaching soared. It was seen at the outdoor Mass for the blessing of the new Novitiate where the gifts were brought up in process by colorful dancers to wondrous song. It is heard in everyday conversation where laughter is as prevalent as the warm African sun.
And this joy resounds from the poor who live in material poverty, and from those who through study and work and opportunity -- often provided by religious -- have forged their way into an emerging middle class.
During my 15 days in Zambia I visited many churches and schools and witnessed firsthand the effects of the ministry of our friars and the Franciscan sisters. While a few Western friars remain, many of whom have served admirably for decades, by-and-large most of the friars are Zambians who do amazing things.
I was present for the graduation at St. Bonaventure University, where 52 Franciscan students (including 26 Conventual friars) received their degrees in Philosophy and related fields. I visited St. Joseph Mission where 39 Postulants and Aspirants were together for a Come and See experience. I celebrated with hundreds of Friends of St. Francis and friars as we blessed and gave thanks for the new Novitiate.
The Novitiate project was overseen by our own Br Tony Droll, OFM Conv. who on April 19 commemorated 50 years in Zambia. How subtly proud he was to have marked that half century with a Novitiate building that will serve as a place of prayer and formation for young Zambian friars for decades to come.
The Zambian Province has grown and flourished through the help of so many. From the friars from other lands (like Tony, Juniper, Jude, Bryan, Louis, Joel, Simon, Regis, Andrew, Eliot, etc.) to donors and benefactors who have helped provide the infrastructure on which the Province was founded, to the Zambian friars themselves who have received these gifts and built upon them. Together all these partners have shown how God's grace overcomes challenges, and how the joy of the Gospel transcends all else.
Amid a lack of resources and a burgeoning number of friars, blessed with wisdom-figures and wrestling with growing pains, with many friends and supporters (both at home and from the US), the Zambians are setting the tone for the Conventuals throughout Africa and the Order.
What a blessing that our two provinces are such good brothers to each other, and the lifeblood to so much.