MAPUTO, Sept 5, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – After a jubilant arrival in Mozambique at the start a three-nation African tour, Pope Francis on Thursday will meet with political and civil leaders to encourage them to consolidate a fragile peace accord.
The pope’s three-day visit to Mozambique comes a month after the government signed a historic peace treaty with the former rebel group Renamo, which is now the main opposition party.
Mozambique’s 16-year civil war devastated the former Portuguese colony, killing around one million people, and Renamo had never completely disarmed.
Francis, the first pope to visit Mozambique since John Paul II in 1988, was whisked away in his popemobile after arriving on Wednesday as crowds waved and danced in welcome.
He starts Thursday with a private meeting with President Filipe Nyusi, who wants to run for a second term in an election scheduled for October 15. The two men had already met one year ago at the Vatican.
As well as discussing the peace agreement, Francis is expected to address the devastation caused by two back-to-back cyclones earlier this year in the poor southeast African country.
He will not travel to Beira, the second city of the country swept away in March by Cyclone Idai, which left 600 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
Even six months on, many people are without shelter and food.
“Even if I cannot go beyond the capital, my heart is with you and embraces you all, with a special place for those who live in difficulty,” he said to the victims of the cyclone, before his trip.
– ‘Pope of the Poor’ –
On Friday, the pope will address a mass at the giant Zimpeto stadium in the seaside capital Maputo.
The pope may also address the issue of extremism in northern Mozambique where jihadist attacks have claimed more than 300 lives over two years.
Francis could also speak about climate change, a key topic for the pontiff who has organised in a global meeting of bishops in Rome dedicated to the Amazon, which has been hit by devastating fires.
According to the World Bank, Mozambique, with its more than 2,000 km of coastline along the Indian Ocean, is among the ten most threatened countries in the world due to the consequences of climate change.
The pope will later visit the large Indian Ocean island of Madagascar and its much smaller neighbour Mauritius — both situated off the eastern coast of Africa.
Mozambique and Madagascar are among the world’s poorest countries and Francis’ choice to visit has been seen as act of solidarity from a cleric who was often in shantytowns of Argentina and is now called the “pope of the poor”.