Pope Francis started his first official speech of his visit to Mozambique by describing the country as one “blessed with natural beauty and rich culture”.
The fact that the beaches of Mozambique stretch for nearly 2,500 kilometers along the warm Indian Ocean, making it the 4th longest coastline in the world. Nearly half of the nation’s land mass is covered by forests that offer a unique biodiversity, triggered the Pope’s introduction.
His next words were of “closeness and solidarity” for all those struck by cyclones Idai and Kenneth, “whose devastating effects continue to be felt by so many families”. “Sadly, I will not be able to go personally to visit you”, said Pope Francis, “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”.
The cyclones hit Mozambique in March and April, leaving hundreds of people dead and thousands homeless. Flooding and an outbreak of cholera continue to affect over one million people.
Words of peace and reconciliation
But the Pope dedicated the greatest part of his discourse to what he called “the efforts made in recent decades to ensure that peace is once more the norm and reconciliation the best path to confront the difficulties and challenges that you face as a nation”.
Pope Francis was referring to the peace agreement signed just a month ago, guaranteeing a definitive cessation of military hostilities between Mozambique government forces and those of the RENAMO opposition party. The first agreement that ended a 17-year long civil war that killed over one million people, was signed in Rome in 1992, with the mediation of the Sant’Egidio lay movement.
“You have experienced suffering, sorrow and affliction”, said the Pope, “but you have refused to let human relationships be governed by vengeance or repression, or to allow hatred and violence to have the final word”. Pope Francis confirmed how “the pursuit of lasting peace is a mission”, one that depends on everyone and that calls for “strenuous, constant and unremitting effort”.
Words of hope and encounter
Pope Francis went on to praise the advances made “in the fields of education and health care”, and he encouraged the authorities present “to ensure that no one feels abandoned, especially young people. These young people “are not only the hope of this land”, said the Pope, “they are also its present”. 45% of Mozambique’s population is under the age of 15.
The Pope also encouraged a “culture of encounter” that acknowledges others, creates bonds, and builds bridges. Memory, he said, is “a path opening up towards the future, leading to the attainment of common goals, shared values and ideas that can help to overcome narrow corporate or partisan interests”.
A nation greatly blessed
Pope Francis concluded by again describing Mozambique as “a nation greatly blessed”. “You have a special responsibility to care for this blessing”, he said. “Protection of the land is also the protection of life”. A culture of peace, the Pope told his audience, “implies a productive, sustainable and inclusive development, where all Mozambicans can feel that this land is theirs, where they can establish relations of fraternity and equity with their neighbours and all their surroundings”.