Pope Francis arrived in Maputo, Mozambique on Wednesday, kicking off a Sept. 4-10 trip to sub-Saharan Africa. The pope was greeted by government officials at a welcoming ceremony, with singing crowds lining the streets.
On the nearly 11-hour flight to Africa, Pope Francis offered prayers for victims of Hurricane Dorian, which tore through the Bahamas this week, causing widespread devastation.
He encouraged people to pray “for the victims of the hurricanes in the Bahamas, poor people who in one day lost their homes, lost everything and lost their lives.”
The pope also accepted a book authored by La Croix reporter Nicolas Seneze, entitled “How America Wanted to Change the Pope.” The pope joked that the book is “a bomb” and told Seneze that he considered it “an honor that Americans attack me.”
After the pope spoke with reporters, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni clarified that the pope’s remarks were directed at critics, and were not intended to insult American Catholics.
“In an informal context, the pope wanted to say that he always considers criticisms an honor, particularly when it comes from important thinkers, in this case, from an important nation,” Bruni said.
The book purports to describe concerted efforts by conservative Americans to undermine and ultimately replace Francis as pope. It is only available in French.
Over the next two days, Pope Francis will meet with government authorities and Church leaders in Mozambique. He will visit the Zimpeto DREAM center, a medical clinic run by the lay Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, which focuses on HIV prevention and antiretroviral treatment.
He will also spend two days in Madagascar, where he will meet with civic and Catholic leaders and attend a prayer vigil for youth, among other events.
The pope will make a brief stop in Mauritius, where he will celebrate Mass and meet with authorities before returning to Rome.
Ahead of his trip, Pope Francis said he had a special place in his heart for all residents of Mozambique “who live in tribulation.”
The country suffered grave destruction and loss of life after being struck by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in March and April of this year.
Nearly 700 people lost their lives in the cyclones, and destruction to land and infrastructure was estimated to reach almost $900 million in damages.
The pope is expected to speak about climate change while he is in Africa.
The pope’s trip comes just a month after Mozambique’s government signed a long-anticipated peace and reconciliation accord with the opposition party, Renamo. The peace deal comes after decades of conflict, which followed the 1992 end of a 17-year civil war. The signing concludes years of peace talks.
In his message ahead of the trip, Pope Francis encouraged the people of the nation to pray for “a firm and lasting peace.”
Bishop Antonio Juliasse, the auxiliary bishop of Maputo, is coordinating the pope’s trip to Mozambique.
The bishop told ACI Africa, the Africa-based sister agency of CNA, that he hopes the papal visit “becomes a moment of hope, peace, and reconciliation” for the country.