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Mozambique’s First Cardinal Eulogized as “a man dedicated to communion and collegiality”

Late Alexandre José Maria Cardinal dos Santos in an interview with Sheila Pires. Credit: Sheila Pires

The first Cardinal in Mozambique who died Wednesday, September 29 has been eulogized as a Catholic Church leader who was committed to the communion of the people of God and who fostered collaboration with other Church leaders.

Alexandre José Maria Cardinal dos Santos who was among the founders of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) succumbed to an illness in the Southern African nation at the age of 97.

In a Thursday, September 30 statement, the leadership of IMBISA recalls the Cardinal’s role in founding the regional forum of Catholic Bishops. 

“It is worth recalling that the deceased Cardinal is regarded as one of the founders of the Regional Episcopal Conference known as IMBISA. He was present at the inaugural meeting which took place in Pretoria, South Africa on the 24th April 1975,” officials of IMBISA Secretariat say.

They add, “We can thus always see in him a picture of a man dedicated to communion and collegiality, shunning all forms of unhealthy expressions of nationalism.”

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“The IMBISA Secretariat offers prayers to God that Cardinal Alexandre, who dedicated all his life to the edification of God's Holy Church, may be admitted to God's eternal Kingdom which he always longed for. We also pray for all who mourn his death that they may receive Divine Consolation,” officials of IMBISA Secretariat further say.

Pope Francis has paid tribute to the late Cardinal in a condolence telegram sent to the Local Ordinary of Maputo, Archbishop Francisco Chimoio, a member of the Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M. Cap).

The Holy Father said: “Having received with sorrow the news of the death of brother Cardinal Alexandre José Maria dos Santos, I wish to express my solidarity to the bereaved family members and to all those, especially in the Archdiocese of Maputo, who have benefited from the service of this shepherd.”

“To the Lord who guided him throughout his entire life, I entrust this tireless servant of the Gospel and the Church, asking him to be welcomed in the heavenly Jerusalem, to which I invite all those participating in the funeral liturgy for Dom Alexandre to raise their hearts,” Pope Francis added.

Born in March 1924, Cardinal Alexandre took his Solemn Vows in O.F.M. Cap. in 1951.

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Two years later, he was ordained a Priest, becoming Mozambique’s first native Catholic Priest.

In December 1974, the late Catholic Church leader was ordained Archbishop of Lourenço Marques, now the Archdiocese of Maputo, and ordained for the Episcopal See in March 1975.

Pope St. John Paul II elevated him to the rank of a Cardinal in June 1988, becoming Mozambique’s first Cardinal.

He retired as Archbishop of Mozambique’s Maputo Archdiocese in February 2003, a month before his 79th birthday.

While serving as Archbishop of Maputo, the late Cardinal founded Caritas Mozambique and served as its first president. 

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He was also the founder of the Franciscans of Our Lady Mother of Africa, a female Religious Congregation.

Cardinal Alexandre also hosted Pope St. John Paul II when the Pontiff made his Apostolic visit to the country in 1988.  

In a message obtained by ACI Africa October 1, the Director of IMBISA Secretariat says the late Cardinal is a representation of “that special generation of leaders in the Church.” 

“The Cardinal is among the first generation of African Priests. He is also the first generation of African Bishops, having become an Archbishop of Maputo at that time when Mozambique was just becoming independent. This was not an easy time,” Fr. Dumisani Vilakati says in his interview with South Africa’s Radio Veritas. 

He adds that the late Cardinal served Mozambicans during some of the difficult moments of colonization and the civil war. 

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“As a Priest and as a Friar among the Franciscans, he would have gone through these years of liberation to lead us, as well as afterwards to become the Archbishop of Maputo. He had to lead an important Archdiocese in a country engulfed by civil war, so certainly not an easy period,” says the IMBISA official. 

Nevertheless, Fr. Vilakati further says, the late Cardinal served the people of God “with tactic until he handed over in 2003 when the civil war was well over.”

The Archbishop emeritus of Maputo was also instrumental in “the journey of reconciling a fractured country” after the Mozambican civil war, the Catholic Priest recalled.

Making reference to the late Cardinal’s role in founding IMBISA, Fr. Vilakati said that the Mozambican Cardinal represented “that generation of Prelates with an international mind, with a worldview that was wider, aware that for Africa to prosper and to grow we needed to pull together and to work together.”

He adds that the establishment of IMBISA remains one of Cardinal Alexandre’s legacy as it speaks to a united Church. 

“In these days when some people are tempted to engage in destructive nationalism, we need to create this atmosphere among the faithful, that the Church goes beyond the Parish, the Diocese. The Church is wider than the nation; we belong to one Catholic Church, which is present all over the world,” Fr. Vilakati emphasizes. 

He continues in reference to the late Cardinal, “He is just one of the few Cardinals that we had in this part of the world, so we mourn his death but we still are grateful to God that He has given us such a member who could see far, way ahead, so that the Church can prosper and work for the good of the Church.”

Sheila Pires, a South Africa-based journalist with Radio Veritas, who knew the late Cardinal from a young age says the late Catholic Church leader was always helpful to her and her family. 

“I have fond memories of Dom Alexandre; he and my grandfather, my Mom's father were best of friends; they grew up together and went to the same schools,” Ms. Pires told ACI Africa, and added, “When my grandfather died in 1983, Dom Alexandre assured my Mom that he would always take care of her and her children.”

The Mozambican-born radio journalist further recalls that the late Cardinal “did a lot for us; thanks to him my elder sister got medical funding from Caritas SA (South Africa) in 1986 for medical assistance here in SA Johannesburg General Hospital.”

“He always helped us when we traveled to SA or Swaziland for medical purposes,” Ms. Pires further recalls, adding that the Cardinal “did a lot for many.” 

Cardinal Alexandre is expected to be laid to rest in Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Mozambique’s Maputo Archdiocese on October 7.