Christians enjoy better relations with Mozambique government

By Ecumenical News International
March 11, 2009

Relations between Christians and the government in Mozambique have improved in the country since the independence struggle, when the church was often seen or portrayed as reactionary.

ENI's Trevor Gundy writes: A Mozambican government official has indicated this in praise for the Anglican church for its help in bringing peace and reconciliation after a bloody civil war.

Millions of Mozambicans, Angolans and Portuguese recently commemorated the 40th anniversary of the death of Eduardo Mondlane, the founder of the Mozambique Liberation Front known as FRELIMO, and whom Portuguese police agents assassinated in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam on 3 February 1969.

A former Anglican missionary to Messumba in northern Mozambique, Canon John Paul, told Ecumenical News International, "If I had been a young African in the 1960s, I would have joined FRELIMO and supported it throughout the struggle for freedom."

Paul, aged 80, worked in Africa between 1956 and 1969. He stays in close contact with his former friends on the continent through the Mozambique and Angola Anglican Association, founded in London 103 years ago.

"When FRELIMO came to power in 1975 there was a great deal of anti-Church feeling, and many churches were closed down," Paul said. "One reason was that FRELIMO regarded the Roman Catholic Church as too closely allied to the State. At that time, to be Portuguese and a Catholic were practically one and the same thing, although, of course, there were individual missionaries who were not in favour of the Portuguese system at all."

Things changed dramatically in the early 1990s when the churches, working either locally or ecumenically through groups such as the All Africa Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches, made overtures to rebels fighting the FRELIMO government. This helped bring about reconciliation after a post-independence civil war that cost tens of thousands of lives.

"The churches have played an important role in establishing peace and reconciliation in both Mozambique and Angola," Ian Gordon of MANNA said after celebrations in London to mark the group's centenary.

Mozambican High Commissioner to London Antonio Gumende noted, "The Anglican church has done so much to bring peace to my country after years of civil war."

Eduardo Mondlane was born in the Gaza district of southern Mozambique in 1920. He was the first member of his family to receive formal education. After attending mission schools, he entered the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and later studied at Lisbon University.

In 1962, Mondlane left a job with the United Nations in America and returned home to found FRELIMO, which, after a long war against Portugal, gained independence for Mozambique in 1975.

A number of writers, political commentators and church leaders have credited Mondlane as the man who laid the foundation for toleration in post-independence Mozambique.

"He was a great freedom fighter, a man who could rub shoulders with senior politicians and diplomats the world over, as well as a man who could talk easily to peasants and villagers," Michael Wolfers, former Africa editor of The Times newspaper in London, told ENI.

"When we look back on his life and times," said Sandra Mussagi, a 30-year-old arts student from Maputo who is studying at the University of London, "we see that Eduardo Mondlane was a leader who represented the beginning of where we are today: a tolerant and multi-racial, as well as multi-cultural country."

MANNA's chairperson, the Venerable Chris Cunliffe, the archdeacon of Derby, said, "We give thanks for the flourishing of the Church in Mozambique, and are grateful for the building of good relations with the government and other national institutions, which is the sign of a healthy and mature society."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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