Mozambique: Benfica – Urban Mission

The parish of St. Francis Xavier in the outskirts of Maputo: a centre of Christian and social commitment. Two Comboni Missionaries lead the parochial community.

The parish of St. Francis Xavier is located in the chaotic neighborhood of Benfica, near Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Here, at five o’clock in the morning, the streets are already congested with tricycles loaded with goods, and women carrying products in big bundles on their heads looking for a somewhere in the street to lay their goods on the ground and sell them.

Lessons at the parish school start at 6 o’clock in the morning. Spanish Comboni Missionary, Father Juan Sanchez Arenas, is the parish priest of St. Francis Xavier, a parish founded in 1949. He has the task of making the schedule of the several pastoral activities implemented at the parish such as taking care of five external chapels, adolescent catechesis, administration of the finances of the parish, the coordination of the parish groups. Father Juan Sanchez is a jovial person who likes joking and laughing. At the same time he knows the social, political and ecclesial reality of Mozambique deeply, therefore listening to his comments and knowing his opinions is always very interesting.

Fr. Antonio Bonato, the other Comboni missionary serving at the St. Francis Xavier, is Italian and he is mainly in charge of the school.

The Benfica neighborhood is home to some 80,000 inhabitants, about 13,000 of whom are Catholics. Many inhabitants of this peripheral neighborhood of Maputo leave the suburb in the morning to reach the capital where they work and, when they come back, at sunset, they go to the St. Francis Xavier church to help the missionaries with their parish activities.

There are three Ministries that stand out among the others for their importance and good organization in the parish. In the first place, there is the Social and Pastoral Ministry which relates to issues such as justice and peace, health, women, social communication, development, charity, migrants and education. The latter is a priority in this parish.

The St. Francis Xavier Community School has 1,400 students: 100 children in the nursery, 880 students attending Primary school, 340 in the Secondary school, and about 80 adults who attend literacy classes at night. The State subsidizes primary education entirely, and the secondary only partially and therefore many children in Mozambique do not attend school because their parents cannot afford tuition fees. The parish school building is located at the rear of the church and it provides classes on a 3-shift daily schedule. Father Bonato underlines that “It is not easy to coordinate three shifts of lessons and rotational teaching for different levels of education”.

The Liturgy Ministry is the second most important Ministry at the Benfica parish. Fr. Juan praises the choir singing at their church, “They sing very well, and have even won awards at several diocesan competitions!” The Liturgy Ministry also includes the Acolyte Ministry, the Word Ministry, the welcoming service and the service of hope which is carried out by well-trained people who accompany those who are seriously ill until the time of their death. They collaborate with the families of the sick and then make preparations for the funeral and burial in the cemetery. Fr. Juan underlines “The burial of the dead is one of the great works of charity that our church provides”.

The Ministry of Catechesis, the transmission of the faith in Jesus, is the third most important Ministry at the Benfica parish, it incorporates a wide range of parish activities, such as Adult Catechumenate which include formation courses for those who were baptized as children, and a three-year formation program for non-baptized adults.

The youngest children of the Benfica neighbourhood attend kindergarten at the Escolinha Comboni-Marinette centre, a joint project between the Comboni Missionaries and the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, the Order founded by Marie Rivier – known as Marinette – the blessed born in the south of France whose congregation has spread throughout the world.

The centre provides its 100 children with breakfast in the morning when they arrive and a midday meal served in the dining room. The Escolinha Comboni-Marinette has several classrooms and a courtyard equipped with toys and games for the children.

Volunteers from the movements Legion of Mary and Hope and Life collaborate with the Comboni missionaries in order to carry out the several activities implemented at the parish.

These volunteers are mainly committed to providing social support. They visit and assist inmates in prisons or other marginalized people. It is beautiful to see how faith and life are interconnected through social support in the Benfica suburb.

– J.C.

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