MAPUTO, Mozambique (AFP) — Pope Francis on Friday told tens of thousands of faithful at a packed stadium not to resort to “vengeance” as he wound up a visit to Mozambique, ravaged by a 16-year civil war and now the target of jihadist attacks.
His maiden visit to the poor former Portuguese colony came a month after the government and the former rebel group Renamo, now the main opposition party, signed a historic peace treaty.
Brutal jihadist attacks in northern Mozambique have claimed more than 300 lives in two years and forced thousands from their homes.
“We cannot think of the future and build a nation” with violence, the pope said in a homily to a crowd of about 60,000 at the Zimpeto stadium in the Mozambican capital Maputo.
Speaking in Portuguese, he asked them not to follow the old law of retaliation, “an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
“No family, no group of neighbors or ethnic group and even less no country has a future, if the motor that unites them … is composed of vengeance and hatred,” he said.
Denouncing reprisals cloaked under the guise of legality, Francis warned that violence was “an endless spiral without end with a very high cost.
“You have the right to peace!” he said.
Mozambique is a mainly Christian country and 28% of the population is Catholic.
Earlier Friday, the pope visited an AIDS care center on the outskirts of Maputo, hailing the carers for responding to the “silent cry” for help in a country ravaged by the disease.
According to UNAIDS, 2.2 million Mozambicans — 60 percent of them women — were HIV-positive in 2018 in the southern African nation of 27 million people.
There were 150,000 new infections last year and 54,000 AIDS-related deaths.
Francis hailed the compassion of the health workers for responding to “this silent cry, almost inaudible, of innumerable women and all the people living in shame, marginalized and judged by everybody.”
He thanked workers at the AIDS centre for “restoring the dignity” of women and children suffering from HIV and AIDS and for “hearing their cries and intervening personally.”
He did not, however, touch on the delicate subject of prevention — an issue riddled with minefields given the Catholic Church’s stand on contraception — especially in a largely conservative and traditional continent.
Francis is the first pope to visit Mozambique since John Paul II in 1988 and is on a three-nation tour that includes Madagascar and Mauritius.
On Thursday, the pontiff visited a brand new hospital in Zimpeto, a poor outlying district of the capital, where 23% of adult residents have contracted HIV.
The complex, inaugurated last year, includes a state-of-the-art laboratory and hosts a program for HIV-positive and AIDS patients, especially pregnant women.
The program, named “Dream”, was launched in 2002 by the Italian lay Catholic association Sant’Egidio, which is close to the Vatican and is dedicated to social service.
It runs 13 health centers in the country. The Dream project is spread across 11 African nations.
Mozambique and Madagascar are among the world’s poorest countries and Francis’ decision to visit is seen as an act of solidarity from a cleric who was a frequent presence in the shantytowns of Argentina and is now called the “pope of the poor.”
© Agence France-Presse