We all know that some day we are destined to die. Yet when the cold hand of death visits us, the shock in us all is palpable. I can’t help but provide some reflections on the death of Zambia’s first indigenous Cardinal, Medardo Joseph Mazombwe. The country has been robbed of a much loved son of the land, the man who preached the word of God to all of us and stood for justice.

I want to take you back to 2010 when in the company of other Zambians, I travelled to Vatican in Rome, Italy to witness his creation as Cardinal - a historic occasion for the Church in Zambia. It was such a wonderful and memorable experience to witness the events through the lens and provide updates for the nation.

It was on 20th November, 2010 on that chilly Italian morning that Emeritus Archbishop Medardo Mazombwe joined 24 others to be created cardinal by then Holy Father, Pope Benedict the sixteenth during the Public Consistory. The occasion was a colourful one and was repeatedly spiced by dance, ululations and cheers, mostly from the African travelling delegation. As he stepped forward and knelt before the Pope to receive his red hat, several Zambians who had travelled applauded him and ululated. It was a great moment to witness one of their own become one of the Princesses of the Church as Cardinals are sometimes called. I watched through the lens and was enthused to capture the images on camera in the majestic and iconic St. Peter’s Basilica. Soon after the Consistory, I stepped forward to congratulate him and receive a blessing.  I felt this excitement inside me like never before. It was such a privilege to be one of the first few Zambians to receive such a gesture from the new Cardinal.

The following day I was to return in that same Church for the Holy Mass on Sunday, a continuation of the ceremony for creating the Cardinals. As usual the Church was full to capacity and many people were beaming with excitement in anticipation of the Mass that was to be presided over by Pope Benedict the sixteenth. On this day, Medardo Cardinal Mazombwe and 24 others were consigned with a ring. The ring is a sign of the bond that exists between the cardinal and the Church. In his usual soft voice, the Holy Father called upon the Christians to pray for the new Cardinals.

“I invite you to pray for the new Cardinals, asking for the special intercession of the Most Holy Mother of God, so that they may exercise their ministry in the Church fruitfully. As the new Cardinals accept the burden of this office, I am confident that they will be supported by your constant prayers and your cooperation in their efforts to build up the Body of Christ in unity, holiness and peace.”

There were other events too lined up while in Rome. Soon after the Consistory, the Pope had an audience with the new Cardinals, their family members and all the faithful who had come to Rome for the Consistory. During this occasion held on Monday, the Pope delivered a discourse in several languages greeting thousands of enthused pilgrims from around the globe. In English, he said: “I extend a cordial greeting to the English-speaking prelates whom I had the joy of raising to the dignity of Cardinal in last Saturday’s Consistory. I also welcome their family members and friends, and all the faithful who have accompanied them to Rome.”

This welcome from the head of the Catholic Church gave me a sense of belonging to the universal Church. I felt very much a family member of the more than 2 billion Catholics.

During a thanksgiving Mass organized by Zambians based in Rome, Medardo Cardinal Mazombwe called upon leaders to promote justice, love and unity.

“And those of Us who are called into power and leadership, let us remember that justice is love. Where there is no justice, it is a proof that there is no love. The kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of justice, love and peace. The world nowadays is in crisis with regard to justice, there is so much injustice around us,” he said.

When I spoke to Fr. Moses Haamungole, a Catholic priest who was at the time studying in Belgium, he described Cardinal Mazombwe as a great son of Zambia who contributed to the debt cancellation for Zambia. Fr. Haamungole who was in Rome for the Consistory further said the appointment of Cardinal Mazombwe “confirms the maturity of the Catholic Church in Zambia.”

“I am very happy the Church has recognized his contribution… and I think he still has an important role to play in the Church in Zambia. He (Cardinal Mazombwe) is one of the advisors of the Pope, so in many ways he will be called upon to give his input in the affairs of the Church,” he said.

Cardinals occupy a very important position in the Church. The College of Cardinals is responsible for electing a new Pope whenever there is a vacancy in the papal office and advising him on matters of greater importance. It is also from among the Cardinals that a new pope is elected. Despite holding such an influential position in the Church, Medardo Cardinal Mazombwe did not have a house of his own but chose to live in the parish of St. Francis De Sales in Thornpark, Lusaka. This sums up anything that has been or can be said about this man – a humble and committed servant of the Lord.    

According to a statement from the Catholic Archdiocese of Lusaka and the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC), His Eminence Medardo CARDINAL Joseph Mazombwe, the Archbishop Emeritus of Lusaka Archdiocese passed away in Lusaka’s University Teaching Hospital (UTH) on Thursday, 29 August 2013 at around 17.40 hours Zambian time.

Brief PROFILE of Medardo CARDINAL Joseph Mazombwe as compiled by ZEC

Zambia‘s first indigenous Cardinal


Cardinal Mazombwe was born on 24 September 1931 at Katete in the Eastern Province of Zambia. He was ordained a Catholic priest on 4 September 1960 and become Bishop of Chipata Diocese on 7 Feb 1971.  Between 1996 and 2006, he was the Archbishop of Lusaka until his retirement in 2006.

On 30 November 2010 the then Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI created the Emeritus Archbishop of Lusaka, Medardo Joseph Mazombwe, as Zambia’s first indigenous Cardinal, at a public consistory held in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican.

Cardinal Mazombwe has held several senior positions in the local and regional Church, such as Zambia Episcopal President (1972 – 1975; 1988 – 1990 and 1999 – 2002); and as Chairman of the regional conferences of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (A.M.E.C.E.A.) (1979 – 1986).

In the months leading to the year 2000, Cardinal Mazombwe, as Archbishop of Lusaka, was an ardent campaigner for the cancellation of Zambia’s international debt, in the Jubilee 2000 movement. Most visible among some of his numerous pastoral initiatives, is the sprawling Cathedral of the Child Jesus (Pope Square) in Lusaka.

Cardinal Mazombwe’s optimism and courage in the face of Cancer inspired many that visited him in the last twelve months. Even as he grew weak, Cardinal Mazombwe never gave up his passion for the affairs of the Church and the nation.