Catholics in Malawi are mourning the death of Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza of Mzuzu, who died in a car crash on Thursday at the age of 59.

The communications secretary of the Malawi bishops conference, Fr. Andrew Kaufa, confirmed the death to CNA on Jan. 15.

The bishop was driving himself along the Chikangawa-Nthungwa road, returning to Mzuzu, and his car rolled several times. He was rushed to the hospital in Mzuzu, where he died.

Bishop Zuza's diocese had been split in 2010, partly out of a desire to ease transportation risks in the area.

When the Diocese of Karonga was erected that year from territory of the Mzuzu diocese, Bishop Zuza told CNA the split was "necessary, because it is quite taxing to travel to some places from headquarters." He described difficult travel on poor roads in all-terrain vehicles to parishes as far as 250 miles away.

Bishop Zuza was born in 1955 in Malembo, and in 1982 was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Mzuzu. St. John Paul II appointed him Bishop of Mzuzu in 1995.

In addition to having been Bishop of Mzuzu, in Malawi's north, Bishop Zuza had been president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Malawi since 2011.

Steering the Malawi bishops conference, Bishop Zuza spoke out for justice and upliftment of the marginalized, slamming the roots of the socio-economic problems of Malawi, which had attracted criticism from political corners.

Bishop Zuza participated in the extraordinary Synod on Family that concluded last October, where he spoke up for Catholic teaching on family sought to uphold the sanctity of the Sacrament of marriage.

A promoter of culture and traditions, the African prelate had expressed concerns over Western influence affecting African culture, particularly on the issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

During the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Mzuzu diocese,Archbishop Nicola Girasoli, then Apostolic Nuncio to Zambia and Malawi, lauded Bishop Zuza's pastoral initiatives for the faithful, saying that "during these years of visiting Mzuzu, the diocese has been very well managed and very well organized."

The Prefecture Apostolic of Northern Malawi was erected in 1947, and was elevated to the status of the Diocese of Mzuzu in 1961. It currently holds a Catholic population of 400,000.