Pope Francis urged the people of Mozambique to nurture their hard-earned peace and provide equal opportunities for all so as not to slip back into civil war.
Francis addressed President Filipe Nyusi of the ruling Frelimo party and leaders of the Renamo opposition at the presidential palace, where peacocks roamed lush gardens in contrast to bustling streets outside.
The two sides in the former Portuguese colony fought a 15-year civil war that ended in 1992 and killed about a million people. Only last month did they sign a permanent ceasefire.
“In the course of these years, you come to realise how the pursuit of lasting peace – a mission incumbent upon all – calls for strenuous, constant and unremitting effort. Peace is like a delicate flower, struggling to blossom on the stony ground of violence,” the pope told them.
Some fear as the country of 28 million approaches elections next month, violence could break out, particularly in rural areas where former rebels hold sway.
Ossufo Momade, leader of Renamo, was present for the papal address and received a round of applause when the president mentioned him.
In his address to the pope, the president vowed to help build a nation “where non-violence becomes a culture lived by all, where politics is practiced through the force of argument and not the force of arms.”
Francis said if they want lasting peace, leaders had to discourage fanaticism and strive to improve conditions and opportunities for the marginalised.
“Without equal opportunities different forms of aggression and conflict will find fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode,” said the pope.
“GOOD DAY FOR PEACE”
“It’s definitely a good day for peace and reconciliation,” said Myrta Kaulard, the United Nations Resident Co-ordinator in Mozambique. “For good elections you need peace. For development you need peace.”
Kaulard said Francis’ message would give a “positive boost,” but so would his presence, noting the last time Mozambique was in the spotlight was for cyclones that killed more than a thousand in March.
Francis touched on environmental problems, another theme of this trip that will take him on to Madagascar and Mauritius.
He said Mozambicans should be vigilant against pillaging and unethical exploitation of natural resources “driven by a greed generally not cultivated even by the inhabitants of these lands, nor motivated by the common good of your people”.
According to the World Bank, Mozambique lost eight million hectares of forest, about the size of Portugal, since the 1970s.
As Asian supplies of valuable hardwoods like rosewood for luxury furniture have been depleted, Chinese importers shifted to Africa. Mozambique is currently the 10th largest supplier of rosewood to China, according to Chinese customs data cited by US-based non-profit group Forest Trends.