Pope Francis’ visit to Mozambique Sept. 5-6 will be a moment of rejoicing for Catholics in that country, who greatly look forward to the encounter, according to a priest from the country.
“Pope Francis will be in Mozambique and that will be a big reason for rejoicing, for being grateful to the pope for choosing Mozambique, and for coming to comfort us, to sustain us, and to strengthen us in our faith,” Fr. Bernardo Suate told CNA.
According to the 2017 census, Catholics make up 28% of the population of the eastern African country. “We are very few, we have many challenges, we have many problems,” Suate said, but with the pope’s visit, “we feel that we are part of the universal Church and that’s a lot, that’s a lot.”
Suate said that while the outlook for the Church in Mozambique is good, especially for vocations to the priesthood, the country’s challenges are many.
There have been ongoing terrorist attacks, especially in the northern part of the country – villages are being destroyed, people are being attacked and killed, he said.
Other problems are environmental. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which hit in March and April, caused massive destruction and loss of life in Mozambique and other African countries.
Around 600 people lost their lives in Mozambique in Cyclone Idai and an additional 45 in Cyclone Kenneth. The destruction to land and infrastructure was catastrophic and is estimated to have caused a combined almost $900 million in damages.
In the south of Mozambique, they are suffering from drought, Suate said. Poverty is another issue in the country. “So, very big challenges.”
The Catholic Church confronts these problems by trying to be a prophetic Church, he said, quoting one of their bishops, who says the Church should have “feet well-grounded in the earth, but with one eye towards God and another eye towards our people, our society.”
“They are suffering, there are problems. So, we don’t keep quiet, we don’t keep silent. We try to evangelize, we try to spread the Word of God, but we try also to listen to the sufferings of our people and the sufferings of our people are many, are a lot.”
The Catholic Church in Mozambique should be thought of as having two phases, Suate said. The first is pre-1975, before independence, when the Church in Mozambique had mainly Portuguese leadership.
“After independence, we can properly speak about a Mozambican Church,” he said. Since that time, he explained that they have had several national pastoral assemblies, one of the most important in 1977, just two years after independence. At that meeting, he said, they decided the Church in Mozambique is to be a ministerial Church.
“What does that mean? It means that we try to be organized through small Christian communities. And the small Christian communities are a family-like community, whereby everybody tries to do something for everybody,” he said.
This manifests through many lay-led ministries, he explained. The lack of priests had an influence on this decision, “but the laity are very important in the Church.”
He also noted a renewed focus on the consolidation of Christians. After Catholics, Protestants make up about 19% of the population.
“We do need people from outside, we do need missionaries, we do need people coming to help us, coming to witness their faith among us, that’s very much important,” he said, but added that they themselves recognize their duty “to evangelize others.”
Mozambique also places a large focus on proper training at all levels of the Church: priests, laity, religious, and bishops, he said.
Pope Francis’ visit to Maputo, Mozambique, is part of larger trip that includes stops in the capital cities of the island nations of Madagascar and Mauritius. It falls 31 years after the visit of St. John Paul II to Mozambique in 1988.
Suate, who is from the northern diocese of Pemba and has worked for Vatican News in Rome since 2013, said Catholics in Mozambique had hoped the pope would come in 2018 on the 30th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II’s visit – which “was a very important one, a very felt one.”
“It wasn’t possible last year; it will be this year. I tell you; people are very much, very much looking forward to this visit.” He said the motto of the trip is something which speaks on its own: “Hope, Peace, and Reconciliation.”
Suate said he thinks “there are many good things that the Church in Mozambique does, and does well, and can share with others.”
“I can mention, for example… the way we celebrate,” he said. “You need to show that you have faith, that you are not there just because you have to, but you are happy to be there. Sometimes, in some areas [of the world], you don’t see that spirit.”
The second quality others can learn from is “the sense of family,” he continued. “The Church in Africa is the family of God.”
“In a family you do not say, ‘oh, you are not important,’ ‘oh no, you be quiet,’ No, in the family, everyone [works] according to their responsibilities, they have a lot to do...”