First Mozambique-born cardinal dies at age of 97

Cardinal Alexandre José Maria dos Santos Cardinal Alexandre José Maria dos Santos (1924-2021). | Voice of America via Wikimedia (public domain).

Cardinal Alexandre José Maria dos Santos, the first cardinal born in Mozambique, has died at the age of 97.

The Catholic leader is remembered for promoting peace amid Mozambique’s bloody civil war from 1977 to 1992, during which he aided refugees and victims of violence as the founding president of Caritas Mozambique.

Pope Francis paid tribute to the cardinal in a condolence telegram sent to Archbishop Francisco Chimoio, O.F.M. Cap, archbishop of Maputo since 2003.

He 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.”

Dos Santos died on the evening of Sept. 29 in Maputo, the capital city where he served as archbishop for nearly three decades.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi also told local media that the country had lost “one of its best sons who stood out in the world for his commitment to the good of humanity, regardless of social status, race, or any other form of distinction.”

Dos Santos was born on March 18, 1924, in Zavala, southeastern Mozambique, at a time when the African nation was still a colony of Portugal.

He attended a minor seminary run by the Franciscan order in Mozambique’s central zone before being sent to Malawi to study philosophy as there was no local major seminary at the time.

At the age of 23, Dos Santos studied with the Franciscans in Portugal and was ordained a priest in the order on June 25, 1953, becoming Mozambique’s first indigenous priest.

After returning to his homeland, Dos Santos carried out pastoral ministry in Franciscan Missions and in 1972 became councilor of the Franciscan’s Mozambique province.

Pope St. Paul VI appointed Dos Santos as archbishop of Maputo in 1975, months before the southeastern African country gained formal independence from Portugal.

As archbishop, Dos Santos promoted programs to help the poor, refugees, and victims of drought. He founded an African religious institute for Mozambican girls, and welcomed Pope St. John Paul II on his first pastoral visit to Mozambique in 1988.

Dos Santos played an important role in the peace agreement brokered by Sant’Egidio in 1992 that ended Mozambique’s long civil war.

Pope John Paul II made Dos Santos a cardinal in 1988. He was the first indigenous bishop to receive the red hat.

Pope Pius XII named Archbishop Theodósio Clemente de Gouveia of Lourenço Marques, Mozambique, a cardinal in 1946. But Gouveia was born in Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal.

Dos Santos continued to serve as archbishop of Maputo until his retirement in 2003 at the age of 79.

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Following his death, there are 216 members of the College of Cardinals, comprising 121 electors and 95 cardinals over the age of 80 years who are not eligible to vote in a conclave.

This report was updated at 05:40 a.m. MDT with quotations from Pope Franciscondolence telegram.

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