Three words resonated like a refrain during Pope Francis' tour of Mozambique this week: hope, peace and reconciliation. Tens of thousands of faithful from across the continent packed a stadium Friday to hear that message and take it with them.
Neither driving rain nor biting cold nor immense distances kept 50,000 people from packing the stadium outside Maputo to receive the blessing of the leader of the Catholic Church. The Mass was the pope’s final blessing in Mozambique before he proceeded to Madagascar, the second stop on his Africa tour.
It was a whirlwind three days for the pope in Mozambique, packed with issues that straddled faith and politics. He was greeted Wednesday night by President Filipe Nyusi, who is running for re-election in October in a campaign that is already shaping up to be a rough one.
The pope's main theme was reconciliation, after leaders in the country recently signed a peace deal aimed at ending decades of low-level conflict that followed a brutal 16-year civil war.
The pontiff also met with HIV and AIDS patients at a church-run hospital outside Maputo. He also touched on the effects of climate change.
"I would like my first words of closeness and solidarity to be addressed to all those struck by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, whose devastating effects continue to be felt by so many families, especially in those places where it is not yet possible to rebuild, because they require this special attention," he said.
In this deeply religious nation — which is predominantly Christian, with Catholics having the largest share — many said this was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Pensioner Ligia Alfeu Mapatse wrapped herself in a colorful capulana — a traditional Mozambican cloth — bearing the pope's face.
"I'm here to thank the pope, our leader,” she said, “in order to have peace."
And lifelong Catholic Mantsane Rantekoa took an overnight bus from the tiny nation of Lesotho to see the pontiff.
"Mozambique is not unique. Lesotho has its problems, and we felt that coming to join Mozambique with the visit of the pope, we'll get lucky the second time around and that he can visit Lesotho. Because we need him, we need his prayers," Rantekoa said.
After Madagascar, the pope will continue to the final stop on his Africa tour, the island nation of Mauritius.