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La Curia Romana  



Mission of   
His Excellency Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes 
President of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum"  
 Sent by  
Pope John Paul II  
to Mozambique in Response to Floods  

9 - 12 March 2000 


           Pope John Paul II was one of the first to call public attention to the situation in Mozambique after the devastation caused by flooding this past month. Already in Cairo on 25 February, during his visit to Egypt, the Holy Father launched an appeal for assistance for the population of Mozambique, which is one of the poorest countries on the suffering continent of Africa. In this country the missionaries and the workers of Caritas Mozambique were the first to systematically respond to the catastrophe - even before the Government - because they are familiar with the population and have direct contact with the people. Thus they were in the position to save many whose lives were severely threatened. In Mozambique there are about 20 religious Institutes: Vincentians Sisters of Charity, Daughters of St. Paul, Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Dominican Sisters, Missionaries of Charity; Combonian Fathers, Dehonian Fathers, Consolata Missionary Fathers, Vincentian Fathers - just to name a few.   

           It seems that all the survivors have by now been saved. Mozambique covers a territory which is twice the size of Italy. Vast areas are usually without any means of communication (telephone, radio, etc.) and are sparsely populated.   About two million people suffered as a result of the flooding, the greatest impact being in the rural areas but the effects were also felt in cities. I visited refugee camps in Maputo and Chibuto. There the people seemed apathetic, without reactions, as if in the state of shock. I met a couple who had lost two children, women who had just given birth, lines of sick looking for medicines for illness such as malaria, cholera, etc.   

           The force of the water was incredible. Sister Maddalena, an Italian, told how she was able to be saved from the current thanks only to the young men who had the strength in their arms to hold on to the roof of the hospital where she was working. Near the city of Xaixai the Limpopo River arrives at a width of 12 kilometers. Sixty percent of the city is flooded. The number of people impacted approached approximately 40-50 thousand. About 100 are dead. "These days have provoked more trauma than in all the years of the civil war" one Sister said to me.   

           In Chokwe (12 - 14 thousand inhabitants) I visited the hospital run by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity, where there were 80 AIDS and tuberculoses patients. With the flooding, the Sisters carried all of them to safety on the roof of the building. The Sisters never abandoned them and remained for three days with the sick in the waters which continued to rise.   

           Already at the beginning of the disaster, a Spanish benefactor had provided a helicopter to the Vincentian Sisters. The helicopter had been used in the Vietnam war. The two pilots were from South Africa. There were places for only seven people on board, but one day 45 persons were transported - in one single trip. Operating in this way for one week, they managed to save the lives of more than 500 persons. Means of transport continues to be one of the major urgencies.   

           The people have responded with gratitude to the help of the many Missionary Priests and Sisters. Some authorities of the local Church have reservations regarding this invasion of "foreigners" even if they are brothers and sisters in faith. It is possible that this is inherited from the colonial period; there is also a strong sense of tribalism and among the people themselves - a sense of belonging to the same family. This sentiment easily makes the "foreigner" a threat. A reaction along these lines is also seen among some individuals of the government. These reservations pertain above all to South Africa, its neighboring country, and the USA which in the past has supported the party of the opposition, RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana).   

           In this less than favorable climate, the apostolate of Missionary Fathers and Sisters - truly a heroic commitment - results in difficulties and merits all our support. This is also true of the mission of the St. Egidio Community which, among the new movements, is the one most dispersed throughout Mozambique. In this disaster, the people of Mozambique, possibly thanks to the witness of Charity by the Church, were able to open themselves to the Catholic and universal horizons and to come out from their restricted perspective.     

           I was warmly welcomed by the people as the delegate of the Holy Father - not only because I was bringing a gift in his name - which was a small gesture of solidarity when compared with large amounts of assistance sent by other governments. In fact, the Holy Father is considered as a Father by the people, and not only by the Christians. He is one of the foreign figures but is considered close, since he has move beyond their feelings of fear and of inferiority. The President of Mozambique strongly emphasized this during our meeting. Above all, Catholicism is called by the people the "Religion of the Pope", and Catholic Churches the "Churches of the Holy Father".   

           In the face of such misery, every sentimental deification of nature is redefined: one cannot raise a voice in song to "Mother Earth" with the new mystics of the "New Age". This romanticism is disturbing. Nature in the history of salvation reflects the relationship between man and God - the flood as His punishment for the sins of man and the rainbow as a sign of the fidelity of God. The earth can be very hostile to man, and therefore the worship of the earth is not only superstitious but also barely realistic.   

           On 10 March I participated in a meeting of about 50 missionaries and representatives from "Caritas Mozambique". At the conclusion of the meeting those present, among which was His Eminence Cardinal dos Santos, Archbishop of Maputo, and the President of Caritas Mozambique, His Excellency Bishop Paulo Mandlate - wanted to underscore the urgency of new assistance for Mozambique. To this date various Catholic agencies in the world have collected about 2 million US dollars. The purchasing of two trucks for transporting medicines and provisions to isolated places is crucial, as well as the necessity to purchase gasoline. Later reconstruction must begin again. In this way proposing to launch a new appeal for economic assistance to the victims. Monetary donations can be made at:   

                                  I.O.R. (Istituto per le Opere di Religione) 

                                  Vatican City State   

                                  Indicating the destination as:  

                                              The Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" 

                                              "Help for Mozambique"   

           Or else to the following account:   

                                  I.O.R. (Istituto per le Opere di Religione) 

                                  at BANCA DI ROMA 

                                              Filiale 204 

                                              Via della Conciliazione, 50 


                                  Indicating the destination as: 

                                              The Pontifical Council "Cor Unum"  

                                              for the population of Mozambique