MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE - Mozambique's seaside capital is buzzing ahead of a historic visit by Pope Francis — his second trip to sub-Saharan Africa since his investiture. Mozambicans say they hope the pontiff will bring peace to the war-ravaged nation.
As the capital city readied Tuesday for his arrival, painters applied fresh white paint to the city's soaring white cathedral, street sweepers cleaned sidewalks, and workers hung signs welcoming the pope.
This is the first papal visit since former pope St. John Paul II visited in 1988, when Mozambique was in the throes of a brutal civil war.
Last month, leaders signed a peace agreement to end renewed hostilities. Parish priest Giorgio Ferretti says that this visit is also historic.
"Now, the visit of Pope Francis is coming after the last agreement of peace," he told VOA, as he oversaw preparations at the cathedral. "So, it's a kind of a blessing for all this period of talk between the government and the opposition. But also his words about climate change, the environment, the poor and living together, they will be a great message for our country."
And beyond. Catholic pilgrim Sibongile Leneke, who is 63, drove seven hours from neighboring South Africa for the visit. On Monday, she and her husband — who is not Catholic but who has accompanied her to Rome to visit the Pope — toured the cathedral and the capital.
"I hope he is going to say there should be peace among the people of South Africa, and he's spreading a lot of love within the Christians," she told VOA.
Although about one-quarter of Mozambicans are Roman Catholic, those who are not of the faith say they'll also be paying attention.
"I think it's interesting," said 22-year-old student Ricardo Jose Faustino. "It will be very interesting to see him here in Mozambique. OK, so I'm Muslim, but I think I should listen to him."
And others say they're listening for a specific message.
"I hope he brings a message of peace," said parishioner Dina Joao Mendes, 30, "because we need peace in this country."
On Thursday, the pope's first full day in Mozambique, he will meet with lawmakers, youth and clergy.
This is Francis's second trip to sub-Saharan Africa. He first visited in 2015, going to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. On this tour, he'll also visit the island nations of Madagascar and Mauritius.