Hope, peace, and reconciliation were the three main pillars of Pope Francis’s message to lawmakers and youth Thursday during his first papal visit to Mozambique.
Thousands of young Catholics packed a Maputo stadium to hear that message in a nation that, for decades, has struggled with conflict. The pontiff was greeted Wednesday night by President Filipe Nyusi, who is running for re-election in October in a contentious poll in which rival parties have already begun to sling mud at each other.
But on Thursday, the Pope did not pander to Mozambique’s leadership when pointing out their higher responsibility to honor a recent peace deal. Both sides in the peace talks have recently accused the other of violating the fragile deal, signed in August.
“As we know, peace is not merely absence of war but a tireless commitment — especially on the part of those of us charged with greater responsibility — to recognize, protect and concretely restore the dignity, so often overlooked or ignored, of our brothers and sisters, so that they can see themselves as the principal protagonists of the destiny of their nation,” Francis said.
Papal visits always come with plenty of pomp. The pope was greeted throughout with dancing, music, red carpets, bands and even some plentifully plumed peacocks at the presidential palace. But those who came to hear him say they took deep meaning from his words. Thirty-four-year-old civil society campaigner Brenda Campos says she took to heart his entreaties for Mozambicans to look beyond their differences.
“His key message is that diversity is important, that you need to be united, even though we have diversity in our country,” she told VOA. “It doesn’t matter. We have to have unity if we want to reconcile, if we want peace, if we want to view the better Mozambique.”
The pope will leave for Madagascar on Friday, and from there, to Mauritius. But Mozambicans say his message will linger here for a long time.
Maputo resident and seminary student DeClerk Nazare, 24, says the pontiff gave him a lot of material on which to reflect, spiritually and academically. But, he said, on this colorful, triumphant day, it all came down to one thing.
“Everyone is happy with the visit of the Holy Father in Mozambique,” he said.