MAPUTO, Mozambique – On his first full day in Mozambique, a country torn apart by a civil war from 1977 to 1992 and still struggling with violence, Pope Francis said lasting peace is not the mere absence of armed conflict but a tireless commitment to secure equal opportunities for all, because if some “are left on the fringes,” aggression will eventually explode.
“The pursuit of lasting peace,” Francis said Thursday, “calls for strenuous, constant and unremitting effort, for peace is like a delicate flower, struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence.”
Peace, he argued, demands that humanity continue “with determination but without fanaticism, with courage but without exaltation, with tenacity but in an intelligent way, to promote peace and reconciliation, not the violence that brings only destruction.”
His words came in an address to local authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps at the Ponta Vermelha Palace, the official residence of the Mozambican president, after a private meeting with President Filipe Nyusi.
Among those present during the pope’s remarks was Ossufo Nomade, president of the opposition party RENAMO, a former militia group that represented one of the factions in the civil war opposed to Nyusi’s FRELIMO front.
During his remarks, Nyusi noted the presence of “my brother” Nomade, who stood in a sign of gratitude and received strong applause.
Quoting Francis, who said “the first to apologize is the bravest; the first to forgive is the strongest,” Nyusi said the dialogue established among all the forces of Mozambican society goals to recognize those who are different and “make this diversity a part of the richness that characterizes us as a multicolored nation in its varied dimensions.”
In his own address, Francis said he wanted to express “personal gratitude” for efforts to ensure peace, saying that reconciliation is the best path to confront the difficulties and challenges Mozambique faces as a nation.
He highlighted a new cease-fire signed August 1, decades after a peace agreement in 1992 which brought an end to the civil war. The Church played a key role in the original negotiations, with the deal being signed in Rome at the headquarters of the Community of Sant’Egidio, one of the “new movements” in Catholicism.
As he was headed to the palace, Francis was greeted by thousands of people who waited to see him along the 1.5-mile route he travelled in a small gray car.
“You are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of a single land, stewards with a shared destiny,” he told the Mozambicans.
Francis urged leaders 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.”
“When a society- whether local, national or global- is willing to leave part of itself on the fringes, no political programs or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility,” he said, speaking in Portuguese.
Francis encouraged Mozambique to ensure that no one, particularly the young, feel excluded. Those under 25 represent 60 percent of the nation’s total population of 30 million.
Peace, an intergenerational process, must also “cherish memory” as a path that opens towards the future, leading to the “attainment of common goals, shared values and ideas that can help to overcome narrow corporate or partisan interests.”
“You have a courageous historical mission to undertake,” the pope said. “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 … These are the weapons of peace.”
Francis offered a few thoughts for those struck by cyclones Idai and Kenneth that hit the country some six months ago, the devastating effects of which, he said, “continue to be felt by so many families, especially in those places where it is not yet possible to rebuild.”
As the pope noted, he won’t be able to go to the region most affected by these two storms that left some 1,000 people dead, but he wanted them to know that he participates “in your anguish and suffering.”
“Amid the catastrophe and desolation, I pray that, in God’s providence, constant concern will be shown by all those civil and social groups who make people their priority and are in a position to promote the necessary rebuilding,” he said.
Toward the end of his speech, Francis added an environmental note. He said peace “invites us to look to the earth,” saying that Mozambique is blessed and is responsible for caring for this blessing.
“The protection of the land is also protection of life, which demands particular attention whenever we see a tendency towards pillaging and exfoliation driven by a greed generally not cultivated even by the inhabitants of these lands, nor motivated for the common good of your people,” he said. “A culture of peace implies a productive, sustainable and inclusive development.”
Myrta Kaulard, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Mozambique, said that “it’s definitely a good day for peace and reconciliation.”
“For good elections you need peace. For development you need peace,” she told reporters traveling with the pope.
She said that Francis’s message would provide the country with “a positive boost,” but so would his simply being here.
“When was the last time Mozambique was in the spotlight?” Kaulard asked, saying it was for the disastrous cyclones that battered the country and killed more than a thousand people in March. The pope would bring a strong message on climate change, she said, but more than anything show that it was a place that mattered. “This after all is a quite remote country.”
After his remarks in Ponta Vermelha Palace, Francis was scheduled to lead an interreligious meeting with the youth at the Mazaquene Pavillon, and during the afternoon met with bishops, priests, religious, consecrated and seminarians and catechists at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
His visit to Mozambique is part of Francis’s Sept. 4-10 trip to Africa, the fourth to this continent, that will also take him to Madagascar and Mauritius.
Earlier in the day, upon learning “with sadness” of the passing of French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a close collaborator of John Paul II, Francis remembered him in a Mass celebrated in the papal embassy.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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