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Mozambique – Faithful presence

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moz2After two decades from the peace agreements that ended the civil war (1976-1992) Mozambicans face the paradoxical situation of a country rich in resources but with widespread poverty. This apparent contradiction is the result of a transition to democracy never really completed. The Church is engaged on several fronts to enable the country to find true justice. During the war, the Small Christian Communities continued to proclaim the Gospel and kept the Church alive. Yet, there is still much to do to reach out those who never heard the Good News, areas of first evangelization are found in every diocese. Most communities are poor, have no place of worship and lack personnel. The formation of leaders is a priority. In the inter-diocesan seminary in Matola, a suburb of Maputo, students come together to prepare for a life of service in the whole country. Vocations are on the rise but remain insufficient when compared to needs. “Social life distracts more than one priest”, says Francisco Chimoio, archbishop of Maputo.

The formation of future generations is a disaster. The Church is committed in the field of education, but it not nearly enough. Soon after independence, the State nationalized all schools. moz3This has now been partially reversed and the Catholic Church is now managing many schools. These are the schools recognized as affording excellence in formation, and yet they survive in very poor conditions. Last May the Episcopal Conference released a pastoral letter on this issue. The bishops showed appreciation for the government’s effort in offering better education, and raised the alarm on the ‘moral question’. They noted that in many schools, children at the end of the primary cycle were unable to write much more than their name. Much worse is the “widespread corruption at different levels of education”, with the extortion of money and sexual blackmail many teachers subject students, especially girls. The bishops were not addressing the government, but society as a whole. “If the school does not provide sufficient preparation – they said – the result is not an educational experience but the opposite, especially on moral grounds. The family is necessarily called upon to play a key role”.
moz4Unfortunately, the traditional African family, which was a clear reference point for some values, no longer exists. This is why the education of the youth requires the training of the parents. Today’s family is weak and unstable. There are many cases of separation and divorce. It is now common to hear of a man who simply left his wife and children and disappeared. If one adds to this the alarming spread of AIDS, it is understandable that the family is undermined. Families live in an environment that subjects them to pressures of all kinds. When crisis strikes, it is easy to break the solidarity of the family and return to ancestral practices. Moreover, traditional religion is followed by almost half the population, and its cultural influence is more extensive than that.
The Comboni Missionaries have a long tradition in Mozambique. They arrived here in 1946 to work in the diocese of Nampula, where the presence of Islam is stronger and the local bishop wanted a missionary group with experience of work in Islamic countries. Portuguese colonial officials did not appreciate their work, especially the message of freedom they spread through preaching the Gospel and in being openly critical of the government. However, they never left Mozambique during the years of civil war when most of the missionary personnel left the country.
moz5Today, the Comboni Missionaries are responsible for 17 parishes, distributed in different regions of the country.  More significantly, they run the Technical School of Carapira, near Nampula. The school was opened in 1964 to train the youth to various technical fields, and it was later nationalized. The government has now asked the Comboni to manage it once again. The other project that stands out in the north is the magazine Vida Nova. It is a diocesan magazine but it is read nationwide. The Comboni Missionaries have been in charge of it since its inception, and the magazine was published and distributed even during the hardest moment of the war. At the outskirts of Maputo, Father Leonello Bettini runs a Charity, a nursery and a primary school. “We offer education to children since 1992. At night, the school is open to 400 adults, mostly women, to whom we offer literacy classes”, he says. On August 24th 1992, Brother Alfredo Fiorini, who was in charge of the hospital in Namapa, was killed by guerrilla fighters. The Comboni Missionaries are preparing to remember this sad event. It will be the occasion to recover the memory of the mission and its sacrifices, but also to acquire new vigour to face the challenges lying ahead.

Luciano Ardesi

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