MAPUTO – Thousands of young Mozambicans welcomed a visiting Pope Francis with cries of “reconciliation” as the pontiff sought to strengthen the peace agreement signed in the country in August, which formally ended hostilities 27 years after the end of the civil war.
Francis arrived in Mozambique on Wednesday.
Over a million people were killed and more than four million displaced during 17 years of civil war in the nation following its independence from Portugal in 1975 up until the signing of the 1992 Rome General Peace Accord, which the Catholic Church helped mediate.
Francis met with young people at an interreligious gathering at Maxaquene Pavillion, a stadium in the capital, Maputo.
He was welcomed by young representatives of the country’s Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and traditional belief communities with a show of song and dance.
There, he encouraged the faithful to build social cohesion and applauded peace in a world “that war is destroying.”
“Families are destroyed by enmity. Countries are destroyed by enmity. The world is destroyed by enmity. And the greatest enmity of all is war,” the pope said.
In his speech delivered in Portuguese, Pope Francis also advised the audience to “be on guard against two attitudes that kill dreams and hope. The attitudes of resignation and anxiety.”
“These are great enemies of life because they usually propel us along an easy but self-defeating path, and the toll they take is high indeed.”
The pontiff gave examples of people who overcame difficulties such as the Mozambican soccer player Eusebio da Silva, the “black panther,” who came from a humble family and suffered the loss of his father.
“His (Silva’s) passion for football made him persevere, keep dreaming and moving forward,” Francis underscored.
The pope also discussed Maria Mutola, who won the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in her fourth attempt.
“Her efforts did not make her self-absorbed; her nine world titles did not let her forget her people, her roots: she continued to look out for the needy children of Mozambique.”
Earlier, Francis addressed Mozambican officials, where the topic of the civil war was also on the agenda.
In an audience with the country’s president, Filipe Nyusi, and the leader of the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo), Ossufo Momade, Francis described the latest deal reaffirming commitment to end hostilities as “a milestone, which we hope will be decisive, made by brave people on the path of peace, which began with the 1992 General Accord in Rome.”
With elections in the country due for Oct. 15, Francis offered a warning.
“Without equal opportunities, the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode.”
In one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, where 70 percent of the population live below the poverty line, the pope urged: “May you not desist as long as there are children and young people without schooling, families that are homeless, unemployed workers, farmers without land to cultivate.”
The head of the Catholic Church also denounced the foreign plundering of natural resources in Mozambique.
“The protection of the land is also the protection of life, which demands particular attention whenever we see a tendency towards pillaging and deforestation driven by a greed generally not cultivated even by the inhabitants of these lands, nor motivated by the common good of your people,” Francis said during his speech at Palacio da Ponta Vermelha, the Mozambique president’s official residence.
The pontiff began his speech consoling the people of Mozambique for the damage incurred by the catastrophic cyclones Idai and Kenneth.
“I would like my first words of closeness and solidarity to be addressed to all those struck by cyclones Idai and Kenneth, whose devastating effects continue to be felt by so many families, especially in those places where it is not yet possible to rebuild,” the pope said.
“Sadly, I will not be able to go personally to visit you, but I want you to know of my own participation in your anguish and suffering, and the commitment of the Catholic community to respond to this most difficult situation,” Francis added.
The second stop on Francis’ tour – from Sept. 6-8 – will be Madagascar, a country that is among the world’s 20 poorest and where Catholics make up around 20 percent of the population.
Francis will spend only a few hours on Monday in Mauritius, a developing country that is a luxury tourism destination and where Catholics (28 percent of the population) live in peaceful coexistence with the much larger Hindu community.
The three-nation tour marks Francis’ fourth visit to Africa as pontiff.