THOUSANDS of jubilant Catholic faithful on Wednesday welcomed Pope Francis to Mozambique as he kicked off a three-nation tour of African countries, expected to focus on those hard hit by poverty, conflict and natural disaster.
Touching down just after 6:00 pm local time (1600 GMT) Francis was greeted on the tarmac by President Filipe Nyusi, a military band playing the national anthem and a display of traditional dance.
The first pope to visit Mozambique since John Paul II in 1988, he was then whisked away in his popemobile, flanked by police bikes as crowds waved signs reading ‘welcome to Mozambique Prophet of reconciliation” and danced in celebration.
I hope his visit will bring us effective and long lasting peace. He stood in his popemobile and waved at the thousands of faithfuls who lined up along the fringes of the city’ main streets as he made the five kilometre (three mile) route from the airport to the Nuncio’s residence in the posh Sommerschield suburb, where he will stay during the visit.
On Friday he will address a mass at the giant Zimpeto stadium in the seaside capital Maputo.
The pope is expected to discuss the country’s fragile peace process, the devastation caused by two back-toback cyclones early this year, and the upcoming general election.
The three-day visit to Mozambique comes a month after the government signed a historic peace treaty with the former rebel group Renamo, which is now the main opposition party.
The 16-year civil war devastated the former Portuguese colony and Renamo has never completely disarmed.
The pope may also address the issue of extremism in northern Mozambique where jihadist attacks have claimed more than 300 lives over two years.
“I hope his visit will bring us effective and long lasting peace,” said Arnaldo Menezes, a 25-year-old student, referring to the treaty with Renamo. “We don’t want war anymore. I want to be able to travel freely across the country, even in the north,” he said.
With elections scheduled for October, some fear violence may break out.