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 ululating Mozambicans, some wearing colorful skirts printed with the pope’s image and the words “hope, peace, reconciliation,” lined the streets of Maputo to cheer Francis’ motorcade as he moved around the capital. It was evidence of the enthusiastic welcome he has received three decades after St. John Paul II helped inspire Mozambicans to end their civil war with a visit of his own.
“It’s such a joy,” said Danilton Nhar, a 25-year-old Mozambican who was among the few thousand young people who attended a music-filled interfaith youth event with the pope. “This is an historic date for my generation.”
Mozambique’s 15-year civil war, which ended with a 1992 initial 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.
Francis opened the day with private meeting with President Felipe Nyusi at the presidential palace. Afterward, he delivered a speech to government authorities and warmly greeted the leader of the armed opposition Renamo, Ossufo Momade, who signed the accord with Nyusi last month and was among the invited guests at the palace.
When Nyusi addressed Momade as “my brother” in his opening speech, Momade stood up from the audience and was applauded.