The retired archbishop of Lusaka and a longtime campaigner for foreign-debt reduction, died on Thursday

Zambian Cardinal Medardo Mazombwe, retired archbishop of Lusaka and a longtime campaigner for foreign-debt reduction, died on Thursday. He was 81.

In a telegram to the people of the Archdiocese of Lusaka, Pope Francis praised the late cardinal’s “unfailing commitment to the spread of the Gospel in Africa and his tireless efforts on behalf of the poor.”

A statement from the archdiocese said, “Cardinal Mazombwe’s optimism and courage in the face of cancer inspired many that visited him in the last 12 months. Even as he grew weak, Cardinal Mazombwe never gave up his passion for the affairs of the church and the nation.”

Pope Benedict XVI had named him to the College of Cardinals in 2010, four years after the archbishop retired as head of the archdiocese.

The Zambian prelate rose to international prominence in the late 1990s as a vocal advocate for the world’s poor countries, particularly those unable to provide for their citizens because they were making massive payments on debt to First World banks.

By 2005, a year before the archbishop’s retirement, the Jubilee Zambia Campaign succeeded, and the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the Paris Club canceled all but $500,000 of Zambia’s $7 billion debt.

In a span of more than three decades, the cardinal served three terms as president of the Zambian bishops’ conference. From 1979 to 1986, he was head of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa.

Born in Chundamira, Zambia, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1960. Pope Paul VI named him bishop of Chipata in 1970, and Pope John Paul II named him archbishop of Lusaka in 1996.

His funeral will be at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus, a church whose construction he spearheaded.

His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 201 members, 112 of whom are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave.