Pope Francis has encouraged African bishops to focus efforts on young people, suggesting education can help them counter new forms of colonization that tempt them to bad ways of life.

"Above all, it is the youth who need your witness. In Africa, the future is in the hands of the young, who need to be protected from new and unscrupulous forms of 'colonization' such as the pursuit of success, riches, and power at all costs," the Pope told participants in the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar during a Feb. 7 audience at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.

He also warned of fundamentalism and the "distorted use of religion."

Investment in education, he said, is "the most effective way to overcome the temptation to give into harmful lifestyles." Education will also help overcome social, ethnic, and religious divisions and "a widespread mentality of injustice and violence."

He praised an education model that "teaches the young to think critically and encourages growth in moral values." The pastoral care of students should also address "the need to unite academic studies with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel."

Christian renewal was also a focus of the Roman Pontiff's remarks.

"The great work of evangelization consists in striving to make the Gospel permeate every aspect of our lives so that we, in turn, can bring it to others," he said. He encouraged bishops to remember always that evangelization implies conversion and "interior renewal."

"The process of purification, which is inherent in evangelization, means accepting the call of Christ to 'repent and believe the Good News'," the Pope explained.

"As a result of this conversion to salvation, not only individuals but the entire ecclesial community is transformed, and becomes an ever greater and more vital expression of faith and charity."

Pope Francis also gave clear advice for pastors, saying they "must remain free from worldly and political concerns."

He encouraged the bishops' efforts to strengthen their fraternal bonds with the Bishop of Rome. He also stressed the need for "streamlined pastoral structures" and "simple ecclesial experiences available to all."

"Experience teaches that large bureaucratic structures approach problems in the abstract and risk distancing the Church from people," he said.

Pope Francis also spoke to the state of society in Africa, noting "a trend toward the breakdown of the family." He said the Church is called "to evaluate and encourage every initiative to strengthen the family, which is the real source of all forms of fraternity and the foundation and primary way of peace."

The Pope praised priests, vowed religious, and laity who have "admirably taken responsibility for the care of families" and have shown special concern for the elderly, sick and handicapped.

"Even in the most distant and remote regions, your local Churches have proclaimed the Gospel of Life and, following the example of the Good Samaritan, have come to the help of those most in need," he said.

"As followers of Christ, we cannot fail to be concerned for the welfare of the weakest; we must also draw the attention of society and the civil authorities to their plight."

He especially praised the "magnificent witness to charity" in the response to the Ebola virus, which killed tens of thousands of people in West Africa.

"Many African missionaries have generously given their lives by remaining close to those suffering from this disease," he said.

Pope Francis praised the African bishops' promotion of respect for law, saying this helps heal the damage of "corruption and fatalism."

The Pope noted that the symposium of bishops' conferences seeks to serve the local Churches of Africa and to provide a "common response" to the continent's challenges. He encouraged the symposium to "remain faithful to its identity as a vibrant experience of communion and of service to the poorest of the poor."

Pope Francis closed his remarks by praying that the "light and the strength of the Holy Spirit" may sustain the African bishops' efforts.

"May the Virgin Mary protect you and intercede for you and for the entire continent of Africa," he said.