MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE - Pope Francis was met by thousands of excited Mozambicans Wednesday — including President Filipe Nyusi — as he began his first papal visit to the southern African country. The pontiff says he brings a message of peace to the war-ravaged nation.
The pope landed Wednesday night at Maputo's airport to a jubilant crowd. Many women wore capulanas — traditional Mozambican cloth — printed with colorful images of Francis. Military bands played, and Nyusi escorted the pontiff to meet clergy and the youth as he disembarked.
In a recorded message released ahead of his arrival, the pope addressed Mozambicans in the nation's dominant language, Portuguese.
"You are all in my prayers," he said. "I invite you all to join in my prayer that the God and Father of all may bring about fraternal reconciliation in Mozambique and throughout Africa, which is the only hope for a solid and lasting peace."
That's a powerful message, Mozambicans say, especially in the wake of a recent peace agreement that aims to end decades of violence that followed a brutal 16-year civil war.
Cracks are beginning to appear in the fragile deal, with members of the opposition Renamo Party accusing members of the ruling Frelimo Party of attacking their members in rural Mozambique. Both parties were the main combatants in the civil war.
On his three-day visit, the pope will meet with lawmakers, youth and clergy, giving three speeches Thursday before leading a mass Friday.
Father Giorgio Ferretti, parish priest of the Cathedral of Maputo, says he also expects the pontiff to address other major challenges facing Mozambique.
"We know he will talk about poor people. He will talk about the environment. He will talk about peace. He will talk about universal fraternity," he said. "But not in a simple way — with his own spiritual words. And that is what we are looking for, and waiting for, to hear."
After Mozambique, Francis will continue to the island nations of Madagascar and Mauritius, where he also sent advance video messages. He spoke in Italian to Mauritians, who speak English, French, Creole and Hindi; and to the Malagasy people, who speak French and Malagasy.
"The language of the Gospel is love," he said.