Pope Francis began the first full day of his visit to Mozambique on Thursday, praising a peace deal between government and rebels and offering solidarity to victims of two devastating cyclones.
His maiden visit to the poor southeast African country comes after the government and the former rebel group Renamo, now the main opposition party, signed a historic treaty.
Mozambique’s 16-year civil war devastated the former Portuguese colony, and Renamo had never completely disarmed.
In talks with President Filipe Nyusi, the pope expressed his “personal gratitude… for the efforts made in recent decades to ensure that peace is once more the norm.”
Reconciliation, he said, is “the best path to confront the difficulties and challenges that you face as a nation.”
He described the accord as “a landmark that we greet with the hope that it will prove decisive.”
The talks at the presidential palace were also attended by Renamo chief Ossufo Momade and other opposition leaders.
Nyusi thanked the Pope for his support and encouragement.
But he also warned that prospects for enduring peace were being threatened by a jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mozambique in 2017.
“The effective peace that we long for … has been threatened in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, where faceless, evildoers sow terror, kill, destroy and plunder goods of defenseless populations,” said Nyusi.
Nyusi is hoping for a second term in office at general elections scheduled for October 15. He met the pope last year at the Vatican.
Francis, the first pope to visit Mozambique since John Paul II in 1988, arrived on Wednesday evening to a rapturous welcome by waving and dancing crowds on the streets of Maputo.
His three-day trip to the disaster-prone country is the first on a tour of three African countries, including Madagascar and Mauritius.
It comes after the country was ravaged two cyclones that killed more than 600 and affected hundreds of thousands.
“I would like my first words of closeness and solidarity to be addressed to all those struck by cyclones Idai and Kenneth, whose devastating effects continue to be felt by so many families,” he said.
“I want you to know of my own participation in your anguish and suffering, and the commitment of the Catholic community to respond to this most difficult situation.
“Amid the catastrophe and desolation, I pray that, in God’s providence, constant concern will be shown by all those civil and social groups who make people their priority and are in a position to promote the necessary rebuilding”.
The pope was to address a mass at the giant Zimpeto stadium later on Friday.
Expectations are high that he will address the issue of extremism in a country that traditionally is religiously tolerant. Brutal jihadist attacks in northern Mozambique have claimed more than 300 lives over two years and forced thousands from their homes.
Francis may also speak about climate change, a key topic for the pontiff. According to the World Bank, Mozambique, with its more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) of coastline along the Indian Ocean, is among the 10 most climate-threatened countries in the world.
The pope will later visit the large Indian Ocean island of Madagascar and its much smaller neighbour Mauritius