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Pope Francis kicks off Africa tour in violence-hit Mozambique

Pope Francis arrives in Mozambique on Wednesday at the start of a three-nation tour of Indian Ocean African countries hard hit by poverty, conflict and natural disaster.

He will be welcomed by tens of thousands during his visit, which will culminate with a mass on Friday at the giant Zimpeto stadium in the seaside capital, Maputo.

The pontiff flew out of Rome  Wednesday morning, and was expected in Maputo around 6:30 pm (1630 GMT) where he is to be received by President Filipe Nyusi.

Pope John Paul II was the last pontiff to visit Mozambique in 1988.

In a video message recorded ahead of the trip, Pope Francis stressed the need for “fraternal reconciliation in Mozambique and throughout Africa, which is the only hope for a solid and lasting peace”.

The pope is expected to address the country’s fragile peace process; the devastation caused by two back-to-back 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.

The pope will also visit the large Indian Ocean island of Madagascar and its much smaller neighbour Mauritius — both situated off the eastern coast of Africa.

His choice of some of the world’s poorest nations is seen by commentators as an act of solidarity from a cleric who was a frequent presence in the shantytowns of Argentina.

Known as the “pope of the poor” the pontiff will only have time to visit Maputo while in Mozambique, much to the disappointment of those in the central city of Beira where Cyclone Idai killed at least 600 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless in March.

The pope, in his video message, anticipated the disappointment.

“Although I am unable to go beyond the capital, my heart reaches out to all of you, with a special place for those of you who live in difficult situations,” he said, adding: “You are all in my prayers.”

AFP

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