, 04 September, 2019 / 5:27 PM
Pope Francis is expected to begin his fourth pastoral visit of Africa in Mozambique, where Church leaders appointed Bishop Antonio Juliasse, the Auxiliary Bishop of Maputo to coordinate the Papal trip. Bishop Juliasse granted ACI Africa an interview at his residence in Maputo a couple of days before the Pope arrival. He spoke about the complexity of the task, the challenges he encountered and the opportunities he has had over the last several months.
ACI Africa: You are overseeing the visit of the Holy Father in Mozambique, his first stop on a three-nation visit. Do you have a recollection of how you were selected?
Bishop Antonio: This was a big surprise for me because before I was consecrated (Auxiliary Bishop of Maputo Archdiocese), I was appointed to lead this group to prepare this (Papal). In fact, I was appointed to lead this team on February 16 and I was consecrated Bishop the next day, on February 17. A day before my consecration, the Bishops (of Mozambique) decided to (convene) an extra ordinary meeting to appoint who should be the president for this group so then they said it’s you.
At the time, I did not realize what was the dimensions for this job. Now, looking back, I can say that it is a very complex activity to organize such kind of visit. (But) I am so glad and also I think that the Church gave me this privilege to have this experience. We are very happy to receive the Holy Father.
ACI Africa: One can imagine the complexity of this task, organizing the visit of a global leader to a country. Share the beginnings of this complex task.
Bishop Antonio: From February when we heard that the Pope was to come, the first thing with the bishops wanted was the program. The program was fixed in March and his (Pope Francis) coming was announced on 27th March, so we saw it as a short time to prepare everything.
The first thing to ask was where to find the finances for all the preparations. I asked my brother Bishops about this and they told me (since) you are the President of the team, you have to look for it (finances). Therefore, the first committee to be set up for the Pope’s visit was the financial committee, to look for money.
We had to make strategic decisions, one of which was to negotiate with the government to give us the privilege to sell ladies’ wear (Capulana) and they accepted that. We produced 70,000 Capulana and that gave us the possibility to pay for some expenses. We also engaged banks and other economic groups and some of them gave positive answers.
We did not have high ambitions. We looked at the time and said, we only need to do this or that, and not more.
We had to sort out the issue of accommodation because the Pope was coming to stay in Maputo and not in any other places of this country. So many of our brothers and sisters were to come from other dioceses. This meant logistics.
In that area (accommodation), we worked with the Parish Priests. We decided to ask the families in the parishes to open their houses to receive guests from outside of Maputo. That is happening. It is an offer that has helped us for we have more than 150 families that offered to receive guests. Others are coming and they will stay with friends, families and others will stay in hotels.
ACI Africa: What has been your budget for the various activities around the Pope’s visit under your direct responsibility?
Bishop Antonio: Our overall budget was 12million Mozambican Metical ($200,000.00). The main expenditure has gone to the group with the Holy Father. When the Pope visits, we were told that we are in charge of all the expenses of the people accompanying the Pope. They have to stay in the hotel, they have to move, to eat, etc.
In addition, all the other bishops have to come from all the dioceses, some using the aeroplance and staying in hotels and all that is expensive. We have also had to arrange for the youth who will be meeting with the Pope. These preparations including the preparation of badges cost money.
The items around the liturgy have also involved spending money, including the vestments. We also had Masses in preparation of this visit, and we needed public address systems, transport, and other logistics. All this has been part of our budget of 12million MZN.
ACI Africa: Did you receive financial support from the government of Mozambique?
Bishop Antonio: The government did not give us money, but we have been working together. Although this kind of visit is also on the side of the State because he (the Holy Father) is also the head of the Vatican State, he is our Pastor. So, it is also an Apostolic visit.
The government was particularly involved in the area of infrastructure. They demolished some structures and build new ones. They have given us the stadium. They are building the place where Mass will take place.
The government was also involved in the shipment of the Popemobile – the transportation from Kenya to Maputo was done by the government. The government minister concerned has sent me some photos confirming that the Popemobile arrived. We planned to go and see it today but I did not manage because of the many meetings.
ACI Africa: This has clearly been a huge undertaking. What are some of the challenges you have faced in coordinating this visit?
Bishop Antonio: We drew the program and we did the communication. But now we are seeing that communication was not effective, perhaps because of the short time and also perhaps because of the lack of possibilities. Some people are coming from the neighboring countries and they did not communicate. So, they are arriving without registration and we have to attend to them. Some are coming from other parts of this country without prior communication. All these have to be attended to because we cannot leave people on the road then say because you did not communicate, you did not register, we don’t have a place to put you. We have to receive them and that has been a big challenge. These are people related to the Church. For instance, a priest arrived from Zimbabwe and we were asking him, but who are you and where are you from, how did you come without registration? He said that he once phoned a (religious) sister and that she had told him that there was no problem and that there are many places (to stay) so he could just come. So, he came. And we had to be charitable and we helped him.
Another challenge has been that of time. It was very short. We have had to work hard. The Church works with volunteers. Many of them are lay people who have make compromises. Sometimes we had to do meetings at night to fulfil our objectives. So, time was a big challenge to make really good preparations.
But, we are very happy because in this short time we did many things. We ran around the country, had meetings, workshops about this (Papal visit). We had to make known the theme of this visit, that is, Hope, Peace and Reconciliation, which we did all over the country. The Catholic University helped us with that and it was very nice to discuss with people about hope, peace and reconciliation.
ACI Africa: It is good to know that you were able to go beyond the challenges. What are some of the opportunities in the process of preparing for this trip?
Bishop Antonio: The Pope’s visit has brought us opportunities as a Church. One big opportunity has been dealing with inter-religious dialogue. We have been preparing the youth around this concept (inter-religious dialogue). We have discovered that many of our youth did not know things that really concern their lives, they did not know that matters of faith are really involving their lives. The youth discovered that they needed to discover and maintain their identity as Christians, as Catholic youth, as youth from different denominations. They also discovered that they had to respect those of other faiths. The workshops in different parts of the country around this theme was really a big opportunity.
ACI Africa: Do you have any last message?
Bishop Antonio: The visit of the Holy Father is something very special for us in Mozambique. This is the second time a Pope is visiting this country. The first time was in 1988 by Saint Pope John Paul II. The visit of Pope Francis came to us as a surprise, but when we heard that his visit was confirmed, we felt special. We are praying that the visit goes well, and that for our country, it becomes a moment of hope, peace, and reconciliation.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa