Maputo — "No family, no group of neighbours, no ethnic group, much less a nation, has a future if the force that unites them, brings them together and resolves their differences is vengeance and hatred", declared the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, in Maputo on Friday.
In his sermon, preached at the mass he celebrated on the final day of his visit to Mozambique, in the national stadium in the outlying Maputo neighbourhood of Zimpeto, the Pope warned "We cannot come to terms and unite for the sake of revenge, or treating others with the same violence with which they treated us, or plotting opportunities for retaliation under apparently legal auspices".
Equity born of violence "is always a spiral with no escape, and its cost is extremely high", he added. "Yet another path is possible, for it is crucial not to forget that our peoples have a right to peace".
He returned to the New Testament precept of "love they enemies", but stressed that when Jesus Christ gave this advice "he was no idealist, someone who ignores reality. He was talking about specific enemies, real enemies: those who hate us, exclude us, revile us and defame us".
"Jesus is not calling us to an abstract, ethereal or theoretical love, like that celebrated in fine speeches", he added. "The path he proposes is one that he himself already took, the path that led him to love those who betrayed him, who judged him unjustly, who killed him".
He acknowledged that many in his Mozambican audience "can still tell your own stories of violence, hatred and conflict; some concerning things that happened to you personally, others concerning people you knew who are no longer alive. It is not easy to speak of reconciliation while wounds are still open from the years of conflict, or to take a step towards forgiveness, which is not the same as ignoring pain or giving up our memories or ideals".
He argued that the love envisaged by Jesus "means much more than simply ignoring the persons who harmed us, or trying to avoid encountering them. Jesus commands us to show an active, impartial and extraordinary benevolence towards those who have hurt us. He also asks us to bless them and to pray for them. In other words, to speak of them with words of blessing, with words of life not death, to speak their names not in insult or revenge, but to establish a new bond which brings peace".
Francis added that "Jesus wants to end forever that common practice of being Christians yet living under the law of retaliation. We cannot look to the future, or build a nation, an equitable society, on the basis of violence". He specifically disavowed the Old Testament view of justice, warning "I cannot follow Jesus if I live my life by the rule of 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'".
"Overcoming times of division and violence calls not only for an act of reconciliation or peace, in the sense of an absence of conflict. It also calls for daily commitment on the part of everyone to an attentive and active concern that makes us treat others with the same mercy and goodness with which we ourselves want to be treated", the Pontiff declared.
Francis attacked corruption. "Mozambique is a land of abundant natural and cultural riches, yet paradoxically, great numbers of its people live below the poverty level", he said. "And at times it seems that those who approach with the alleged desire to help have other interests. Sadly, this happens with brothers and sisters of the same land, who let themselves be corrupted. It is very dangerous to think that this is the price to be paid for foreign aid".
Despite the rain that fell steadily over Maputo on Friday morning, tens of thousands of people packed the stadium to hear the Pope. The doors of the stadium opened at 05.00, although the mass did not begin until around 10.00.
Immediately after the ceremony, Pope Francis made his way to Maputo International Airport. President Filipe Nyusi bade the Pope farewell at the airport immediately before he flew on to Madagascar, the next stop in his southern Africa tour. The Pope is also due to visit Mauritius.