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Pope Francis begins African tour from Mozambique

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Pope Francis will arrive in Mozambique on Wednesday, kicking off a three-nation tour of the Indian Ocean that is ravaged by poverty, conflict and natural disasters.

He is due to receive tens of thousands of people during his visit, which culminates Friday with a mass to greet him at the large Zimbito Stadium in Maputo, the seaside capital.

The Pope left Rome on Wednesday morning and is expected to arrive at his Maputo plane around 18:30 (1630 GMT), where he will be received by President Filipe Nyusi.

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

In a video before the visit, Pope Francis stressed the need for “fraternal reconciliation in Mozambique and Africa, the only hope for a durable and lasting peace.”

The Pontiff is expected to address the fragile peace process in the country, the devastation caused by two successive hurricanes earlier this year and the upcoming general elections.

The three-day visit to Mozambique comes a month after the signing of a landmark peace deal between the government and the former rebel Movement for the Democratic Resistance of Mozambique (RENAMO), which has become the largest opposition party.

The 16-year civil war devastated the former Portuguese colony and the Renamo rebels have yet to give up their weapons completely.

The Pope may also address the problem of extremism in northern Mozambique, where jihadist attacks have killed more than 300 people in two years.

– Good omen.

The visit will be a good omen for a country in crisis, according to 21-year-old student Jaime Tiamo. “I think things will change with his arrival … in the sense that we can live in peace again since we have lived in constant conflict,” he said. “His visit can carry good things.”

The pope will also visit the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar and its smaller neighbor Mauritius. The islands are located off the east coast of Africa.

Observers see his choice of some of the world’s poorest countries as a gesture of solidarity from a cleric who has repeatedly frequented slums in his native Argentina.

The Great Pope, nicknamed the “Pope of the Poor,” will have little time to visit Maputo in Mozambique. This will disappoint the people of the central city of Beira, where Hurricane Eide killed 600 people and displaced hundreds of thousands in March.

– Hope –

In his video message, Pope Francis predicted the disappointment of some people for not visiting the stricken area. “Although I am unable to visit areas other than the capital, my heart is with you and has a special place for those living in difficult circumstances,” he told them. “You are all in my prayers.”

Mozambique’s government has spent 300,000 euros ($ 330,000) in preparation for the Pope’s visit, according to Foreign Minister Jose Pacheco, including money spent on renovations at Maputo Cathedral and improvements to its roads.

Many citizens are eager to visit the Pope.

The housewife, Fatima dos Santos, 39, traveled 1,600 kilometers from the central city of Kilimani to take part in the historic event. She brought with her a special robe that she will wear on Friday mass.

“I will go to Zimbito to meet Pope Francis, our greatest hope,” dos Santos told AFP as she wrapped the cloth around her waist. “This is the second time I welcome greater ink in Mozambique,” she said, recalling that she was a child when John Paul II visited him.

After Mozambique, the Pope heads to Madagascar, one of the world’s poorest countries, three-quarters of whose population lives on less than $ 2 a day.

The pope will speak in front of workers at a quarry on the predominantly Christian island.

The pope will conclude his trip with a lightning visit to Mauritius, a stable democracy east of Madagascar.

The small republic, whose Hindus make up 52 percent of the population but has two large Christian minorities (30 percent) – mostly Catholic – and Muslim (18 percent), wants to celebrate its cultural and religious diversity.

Pope John Paul II visited these countries nearly 30 years ago.

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