Pope Francis walks with Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi at a meeting with authorities in Maputo. Reuters
Pope Francis praised Mozambique's president and opposition leader Thursday for their courage in signing a landmark new peace accord, as he opened a visit to the southern African nation by calling for a future where reconciliation, hope and sustainable development become "weapons of peace."
Thousands of residents, some wearing colourful skirts printed with the pope's image and the words "hope, peace, reconciliation," lined the streets of the capital, Maputo to cheer Francis' motorcade as he headed to the presidential palace to meet with President Felipe Nyusi.
After meeting privately, Francis addressed government authorities and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade, who signed the peace accord with Nyusi and was among the invited guests.
When Nyusi addressed Momade as "my brother" in his opening speech, Momade stood up from the audience and was applauded.
Analysts pointed to the significance of both Nyusi, a Catholic, and Momade, a Muslim, greeting the pope as a symbolically powerful message of unity amid the diversity of Mozambique, which has a long tradition of religious tolerance.
In his speech, Francis praised their courage for setting aside personal interest and violence and working instead for the common good.
"Courage brings peace!" Francis told the officials, speaking in Spanish-accented Portuguese. "You have experienced suffering, sorrow and affliction, 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."
He urged a continued commitment to a process of reconciliation and development that respects the environment and takes care of those on the fringes of society.
"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," he said. "These are the foundations for a future of hope, because it will be a future of dignity. These are the weapons of peace."
Francis' visit came just weeks after the new peace deal was signed and before national elections on Oct. 15. The vote is considered crucial because a recent constitutional amendment has decentralized power so that provincial governors will now be elected directly, rather than appointed by the central government.
Mozambique's 15-year civil war, which ended with a 1992 peace deal, killed an estimated 1 million people and devastated the former Portuguese colony. The permanent cease-fire signed Aug. 1 was the culmination of years of negotiations to end fighting that has flared sporadically in the 27 years since.
Among those welcoming Francis when he arrived Wednesday was Sister Deolinda Pires, a Mozambican nun.
"He is coming to bring us hope, encouragement, reinvigorating our faith," she said. "It's a very important moment because we believe he is bringing a strong message of hope."
Francis was to take his message of reconciliation later Thursday to an interfaith youth encounter.
Francis opened his speech to government and Renamo authorities with a message of solidarity for the victims of the unprecedented, back-to-back cyclones that ripped into Mozambique earlier this year, killing more than 650 people and destroying vast swaths of farmland.
"Sadly, I will not be able to go personally to visit you, but I want you to know I share in your anguish and suffering, and the commitment of the Catholic community to respond to this most difficult situation," he said.
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