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Ecumenism in Mozambique.

In Search of Ecumenism That Is Live-giving and Healing

At the eighth assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998, the delegates agreed that up to the next assembly the Council should focus on Africa and its contribution to the life of the churches and the ecumenical movement. As a contribution to that overall emphasis, this paper will concentrate particularly on the situation in Mozambique.

Mozambican theologian and WCC central committee member Simao Chamango, in his book on the history of the churches in Mozambique, writes that among the first groups of Protestant missionaries to bring the good news to the country were Mozambicans who had converted to Christianity in neighbouring South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and who returned home as evangelists. "In search of subsistence for their own families, those Mozambicans brought from the neighbouring countries the inexhaustible wealth that is the word of God, the gospel."(1)

This inexhaustible wealth which has spiritual, material and moral dimensions is indeed the good news that we read about in the gospel of John: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (3:16). And yet in the same gospel, Jesus Christ states the following about himself: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (10:10). Through his life and ministry, Jesus Christ: was concerned that the sick and marginalized should have life.

In other words, what Jesus did was to preach and to build the kingdom of God that is "an authentic global and structural revolution" through transforming the global structures "of this old world into the novelty and joy of God reigning over everything". This is, for Leonardo Boff, what it means to be a Christian. According to Boff,
 To be a Christian is to be a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17), and the kingdom of
 God, in the words of Revelation, is the new heaven and the new earth (Rev.
 21:1): "There will be no more death, and no more mourning and sadness. The
 world of the past has gone" (21:4).(2)

At the end of his mission and before he was taken up into heaven, Christ told his disciples: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). The expression "all nations" means "the whole inhabited world", the oikoumene. Today, after 2000 years, the same command is still addressed to all people in Mozambique, Africa and worldwide, that the world may believe (John 17:21).

The church in Mozambique

The Portuguese began colonizing Mozambique in the 15th century. As in many countries in Africa the colonization and evangelization processes took place simultaneously.(3)

The Roman Catholic Church was the first to come to Mozambique, and it remained the only Christian church in the country until the 19th century, when some Protestant missionary societies began to establish themselves, especially in the southern and central regions.(4) The newspaper of the time, O Comercio de Lourenco Marques, reported:
 Time must provide a ready remedy for what is happening in Lourenco Marques
 [now Maputo]. All kinds of religions and sects are spreading their
 propaganda while our Catholic Church stands still or even goes into

According to the Mozambican Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference, the lack of success of the Roman Catholic Church between the 15th and 19th centuries was due to the fact that its pastoral activities were directed more to the Portuguese residents, although from time to time some attention was also given to native peoples.(6) But by the turn into the 20th century, a number of missionary societies and Protestant churches were making their presence felt throughout the country. This developed even as Catholicism became stronger and more dynamic -- largely in the areas of mission, education and health(7) -- in the 1940s, after the signing of the missionary agreement between the states of Portugal and the Vatican, through which the Roman Catholic Church became the official church of the Portuguese state.(8)

Mozambican authorities estimate that there are currently more than 300 Christian denominations operating throughout the country, all of which have registered with the department of religious affairs in the ministry of justice.(9) These include the Roman Catholic Church, the mainline Protestant churches, the Evangelical churches, the African Independent "separatist" churches and the Pentecostal churches.

Ecumenical activity

According to Chamango, before the Berlin conference in 1885 the Protestant churches and missionary societies were not officially allowed to operate in Mozambique, but after this historic conference Protestants gained "relative freedom"(10) to work in the country. By the 1930s there were about 18 Protestant missions operating throughout the country.(11)

Although there were tensions between the Protestant missionary societies and churches, at the individual level some missionaries gradually felt the need for closer cooperation and fellowship in order to discuss common concerns -- such as their difficulties in relating both to the Portuguese colonial government and the Roman Catholic Church -- and to plan joint projects.(12) The majority of the Protestant missionaries came from North America and Europe, where a certain degree of ecumenism had already appeared.

Other reasons contributing to ecumenism in Mozambique at that time, according to Christine Wenger, were the increasing number of African Independent or "separatist" churches, and the "free-lance" or "faith missionaries" coming into Mozambique from South Africa, Europe and the USA.(13)

As a consequence, in 1928 individual Protestant missionaries came together to form the Portuguese East Africa Evangelical Missionaries Association (PEAEMA).(14) The areas of cooperation of this first ecumenical organization included, for example, the "training of midwives, sharing of medical literature in the vernacular languages, exploring a common teaching basis in evangelism on issues such as lobola (bride price) and marriage, alcoholism, cooperation in training ministers and in bringing native leaders for regional meetings, establishing a joint Sunday school paper, organizing annual retreats for teachers, and the organization of combined religious education".(15) Wenger adds to this list the joint evangelistic missions in the Transvaal mining compounds of South Africa.(16)

However, it must not be forgotten that; while these missionaries decided not to tackle directly some of the divisive doctrinal, traditional, theological and denominational issues, they well understood the ecumenical dimension of the gospel of Jesus Christ. After 16 years of joint ecumenical mission and cooperation, they realized that to maximize their efforts in ecumenism, a strong executive body was needed to bring together the various missionary societies and churches. The following declaration was adopted unanimously in 1944 when the Protestant missionaries decided to form an ecumenical executive body, the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM):
 We thank God that we as an association have now completed 16 years of
 useful existence. We prize the fellowship, the mutual understanding and the
 measure of cooperation in the service we have enjoyed and which must surely
 increase. The time has now come when a more official organization, one more
 responsible to the interested societies, needs to be set up -- something
 more than an association of individuals who have a mandate to act on behalf
 of their respective missions and churches. The Protestant Council of Congo,
 the South Africa Council of Churches, the Christian Alliance of Angola, the
 Council of Christian Churches of Southern Rhodesia, all came into existence
 this way. Our needs give us courage to follow the same way, based on mutual
 confidence and experience. At the general meeting of the association, held
 at Chicumbane on 1 September 1944, of which due notice has been given of
 the proposal, it is suggested that the Portuguese East Africa Evangelical
 Missionary Association shall be dissolved and that all matters under
 consideration and all funds held by the association shall be handed over to
 the newly formed Christian council.(17)

Nevertheless, the CCM as an institution was officially launched only on 29 July 1948. Among other decisions the new national ecumenical body decided that it was vital to involve more African Christians in ecumenical programmes and activities. Thus, education and training of local Christians together was defined as a priority area. In the following years, Ricatla Mission, near Maputo City, became an ecumenical centre, where this priority was developed using an ecumenical approach.

Today, the Ricatla Ecumenical Centre still functions as an ecumenical "laboratory", not only at local but also at international level, where students from Angola, Brasil and South Africa together whith Mozambicans receive theological education and ministerial formation. The centre is also used for regional and international meetings and workshops. So far Ricatla has graduated more than 150 pastors and theologians who have received certificates, diplomas and bachelor degrees.(18)

Ricatla also organized a one-year course in youth leadership and evangelism, as well as camping and retreat programmes. Many of those who have followed these programmes have worked not only with the churches and church-related organizations but also with governmental, non-governmental and international institutions.

In his book Church, State and People in Mozambique, Alf Helgesson, a former Swedish missionary with the United Methodist Church in Mozambique, reminds us that one of those who was a product of this ecumenical activity and who played an important role on behalf of Mozambique and Africa in general, as well as at the United Nations secretariat in New York, was Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane. Mondlane was the first president of Frelimo, the liberation movement which led the struggle in the 1960s and the 1970s:
 During the 1950s, African delegates were also invited to attend the CCM
 meetings. The hope was expressed that Eduardo Mondlane might become the
 general secretary of CCM after completion of his doctorate at Northwestern
 University in Evanston, USA.(19)

Teresa Cruz e Silva, a researcher from Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, says that, apart from training church leaders, the Protestant churches and missionary societies in Mozambique had also played an important role "in preparing youth with the profile to work and exercise organizational leadership of any political movement, in a colonial situation".(20) She adds that through reading the Bible and especially the gospels and the religious rituals, songs and prayers, Mozambicans found answers to their concerns and a new concept of their rights.(21)

The desire for freedom and the right to life were among the factors that led thousands of men and women to engage in the liberation struggle against the Portuguese colonial system that lasted ten years and ended in 1975 with the proclamation of national independence. The churches and the ecumenical family, locally and worldwide, expressed their solidarity through the WCC to the Mozambican people and to several other African countries in support of the liberation of Mozambique.(22)

During the civil war, that lasted for 16 years and ended in 1992, the churches and the ecumenical movement overseas also showed solidarity to the Mozambican people through funding programmes of the local churches and ecumenical institutions in emergency and humanitarian aid. Along with this external solidarity, internally the churches and the ecumenical movement were also in solidarity among themselves and with Mozambican society. Luciano da Costa Ferreira of the Roman Catholic Church says:
 Internally, the church grouped its forces together. They had grown up
 assisting each other and sharing, and created the capacity of service,
 participation and co-responsibility of all their members, in the spirit of
 communion and family.(23)

According to da Costa Ferreira, "the church itself sees in the people, in small communities, in the historical situation, a dialectical relation with the world in transformation, found in the people, in a culture, in a religious context; therefore the church seeks to interpret the signs of the times and to develop a dialogue, a `missionary-ecumenical vision'";(24) which is important and necessary in order that "the human being shall have life and shall have it in abundance (John 10:10)".(25)

Obede Baloi, a theologian from the Presbyterian church, says that in the period after independence in 1975, apart from continuing with concrete activities which had an immediate impact on people's lives such as evangelization, humanitarian aid and emergency programmes, the churches in Mozambique also were participating "deliberately in the political intervention".(26) One example was involvement as peace-maker. In Matthew 5:9, the scriptures say that "blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God". During the time of civil conflict this biblical message was a source of inspiration within the churches and the ecumenical movement all over the country.

Lucas Amosse (Tivane), the current general secretary of CCM, notes that during the civil war in Mozambique the churches, either individually or ecumenically, preached sermons at the funerals of the victims and gave messages of comfort to families and friends of the victims.

But there was also public worship, prayers for peace and time for Bible studies, aiming to share what the scriptures say about peace and considering ways of making it work in the Mozambican situation. Amosse also adds, "As we considered this reality we were sure that God was not pleased at all, and so we thought about how He might want to use us as churches to solve the problem."(27) Fortunately, God decided to use his churches in Mozambique as peace-makers:
 Thus, before we engaged in dialogue with the warring groups (government and
 rebel guerrilla movement) there was need to agree among ourselves. It was
 not an easy discussion, but once dialogue started in a pastoral but
 transparent fashion, agreement was reached to face both sides.(28)

Another Mozambican theologian, and a member of the church negotiating team of the 1992 general peace agreement, was the Anglican bishop of Libombos, Dom Dinis Sengulane. In his book Victoria Sem Vencidos he says that after agreement was reached within the churches at ecumenical level, through the CCM's commission on peace and reconciliation, the next step was dialogue between church and government with a view to a dialogue between the government and the rebel movement Renamo. Sengulane recalls that in 1985 the church was authorized by the government to contact Renamo.(29) In the following years, negotiation continued between the government and Renamo, ending in Rome on 4 October 1992 with the signing of the general peace agreement.

According to Baloi, during the civil war the Christian churches had presented themselves in two major groupings, Protestants and Catholics:
 They came across together as the biggest religious organization countrywide
 and played an important role towards the end of the civil war as well as in
 promoting peace and preparing people for elections through civic education
 and humanitarian aid.(30)

But to ensure life in abundance for all Mozambicans, further action was necessary. So the Christian Council of Mozambique, together with the Roman Catholic Church (through Caritas) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) came together in an ecumenical programme known as the RRR Programme (Repatriation, Resettlement and Rehabilitation), which targeted internally displaced people and refugees. This programme recently became the Ecumenical Committee for Social Development (CEDES) through which both the Roman Catholic Church and the CCM still work in the fields of social development.

Through the commission for justice, peace and reconciliation of the Christian Council, the churches have been involved in "preparing people for peace" through civic education, reconciliation and conflict resolution, as well as turning-swords-into-ploughshares programmes. Some of these are still active.

More recently, due to the catastrophic flooding still affecting the southern and central regions of Mozambique, the churches are working to alleviate the suffering of the victims. As in the past when the country was facing the civil war and natural disasters (floods and droughts), the churches' response is very positive. Community and social development, water sanitation, training and formation, HIV/AIDS-awareness are some of the programmes the churches, church-related organizations and the ecumenical family internally are doing in partnership with the government, non-governmental organizations, international institutions and other religious communities, as well as with the national religious body, the Mozambique Inter-religious Council.

This way of being church, and of creating church-related institutions, is consistent with what Julio de Santa Ana says in Ecumenismo e Libertacao:
 In fact, the unity of human beings, of nations, of all varieties that
 characterize the people of God, includes the geographic, cultural and
 political dimension. Therefore, it is something that has to treat all
 wealth of human life. It is to recognize that individual life can be and
 will be enriched by meeting together with other people that are living in
 other material realities and other cultures, and to search to organize
 themselves politically according to their own particular traditions and
 existential conditions.(31)

We must not forget the role the churches and the ecumenical movement in Mozambique have played in the Southern African region, especially during the period of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The ecumenical movement and the churches took part in the creation of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA) and its communication arm, the Ecumenical Documentation and Information Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa (EDICESA), early in the 1980s. These ecumenical institutions played an important role in the eradication of apartheid. Together with the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), and the WCC, they are still involved in the search for ecumenism in Africa that is life-giving and healing.


In Africa in general, and in Mozambique in particular, the churches and the ecumenical movement have responded positively to several complex situations, in spite of facing difficulties in many areas. But more action is needed.

For example, given the new world order and the scientific, industrial and technological developments we are experiencing today, the churches and the ecumenical movement are called to set aside their traditional roles and to start acting where social help is needed. They will have to use a contextual and holistic theological approach, as well as a biblical hermeneutic in areas such as peace-making and conflict-resolution, reconciliation and globalization, democracy and good governance, eradication of poverty, and overcoming HIV/AIDS and other endemic diseases such as malaria and cholera.

In search of an ecumenism in Africa that is life-giving and healing, the churches and the ecumenical movement in Mozambique are also invited to live and promote ecumenism through formation programmes that stress interdenominational and inter-religious dialogue, fellowship, solidarity and communication. In this way information, skills and experiences can be shared at the local, regional and international levels. The dialogue between the communities and churches, especially those who are not yet members of the Christian Council, is more important in the search for ecumenism because only if the Christian communities are united may the world believe.

So far, the creation of ecumenical organizations witnesses to the fact that the search for ecumenism is the concern of the Christian communities in living according to the Jesus' prayer in the gospel of John 17. On this ecumenical basis the churches can address such crucial issues as poverty, malaria, cholera, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, corruption and criminality, and the violence which is widespread, even in Christian families.

A great deal more remains to be done.


(1) Simao Chamango, A Chegada do Evangelho em Mocambique, 2 edicao, Maputo, 1994, p. 15.

(2) Leonardo Boff, Jesus Crist Liberator, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis, 1978, p.240.

(3) Chamango, A chegada, 1994, p.5.

(4) bid., p.7.

(5) Ibid., p10.

(6) Conferencia Episcopal de Mocambique, Mocambique Ontem e Hoje, Maputo, Minerva Central, 1988, p.25.

(7) Ibid., pp.31-32.

(8) Jose Julio Goncalves, Protestantismo em Africa, 2 vols, Lisbon, 1960, pp. 140-42.

(9) Elias Zacarias Massicame, Por uma Pastoral da Comunicacao Crista em Mocambique, dissertation presented at Ricatla United Seminary for a bachelor degree of theology, Maputo, 1998, p.28.

(10) Chamango, A Chegada, p.7.

(11) Mocambique Ontem, p.31.

(12) Chistine H. Wenger, The United Seminary of Ricatla: A Venture in Ecumenism, Maputo, 2000, p.33.

(13) Ibid.

(14) Simao Chamango, Esboco Historico do Conselho Cristao de Mocambique, unpublished communication presented at the celebration of CCM's 50th anniversary jubilee, Maputo, 1998, p.5.

(15) Wenger, The United Seminary, pp.33-34.

(16) Ibid., p.33.

(17) Chamango, Esboco Historico, p.7.

(18) Wenger, The United Seminary, p.116.

(19) Alf Helgesson, Church, State and People in Mozambique, Uppsala, 1994, p.280.

(20) Teresa Cruz e Silva, "Igrejas Protestantes no Sul de Mocambique e Nacionalismo: o caso da "Missao Suica" (1940-1974)", in Estudos Mocambicanos Numero 10, Maputo, Centro dos Estudos Africanos -- Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, 1992, p.36.

(21) Ibid., pp.36-37.

(22) Ibid., p.25.

(23) Luciano da Costa Ferreira, Igreja Catolica em Mocambique: Que Caminhos?, Maputo, Edicoes Paulistas-Africa, 1993, p. 18.

(24) Ibid., p.61.

(25) Ibid., p.26.

(26) Obede Baloi, "Gestao de Conflictos e Transicao Democratica", in Mocambique: Eleicoes, Democracia e Desenvolvimento, Maputo, Brazao Mazula, 1995, p.501.

(27) Lucas Amosse (Tivame), "Being the Church in Mozambique Today", in Partnership and Power, Hans S. A. Engdahl and Jo T. Seoka, eds, Pretoria, 1998, p.20.

(28) Ibid., p.21.

(29) Dinis Sengulane, Victoria Sem Vencidos, Maputo, 1994, p.8.

(30) Baloi, "Gestao de Conflictos", p.510.

(31) Julio H. de Santa Ana, Ecumenismo e Libertacao, Petropolis, Vozes, 1987, pp.20-21.

Elias Massicame (United Methodist Church-Mozambique Annual Conference) lectures in ecumenism at the United Seminary of Ricatla in Maputo, and is a journalist with the Christian Council of Mozambique.
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Author:Massicame, Elias
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Previous Article:Churches Moving beyond Denominationalism.
Next Article:Reflections on Denominationalism and Ecumenism.

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