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Mozambique’s 1st priest, bishop, and cardinal dies at 97

Cardinal in choir dress

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 10/01/21

Cardinal Alexandre José Maria dos Santos was ordained a Franciscan priest in 1953.

Cardinal Alexandre José Maria dos Santos, archbishop Emeritus of Maputo in Mozambique, died at the age of 97 on September 29.

The College of Cardinals now has 216 cardinals – 121 electors and 95 non-electors.

Cardinal Alexandre José Maria Dos Santos of Mozambique
Cardinal de Santos, right.

“I would like to express my solidarity with the bereaved family and all those, in particular in the Archdiocese of Maputo, who have benefited from the service of this pastor,” reacted Pope Francis in a telegram sent to Archbishop Francisco Chimoio of Maputo.

“To the Lord who guided him throughout his life, I entrust this tireless servant of the Gospel and of the Church, asking that he be welcomed in the heavenly Jerusalem,” he added, assuring his apostolic blessing to all those mourning the cardinal’s death.

José Maria dos Santos was born on March 18, 1924 in Zavala, Mozambique. He was the first priest, the first bishop, and the first cardinal of the modern country. Portugal did not relinquish Mozambique until 1975.

Mozambique is about 27% Catholic and is divided into 12 dioceses including three archdioceses.

The first mission there was started by Portuguese Franciscans in 1500.

A Franciscan

Dos Santos began his studies at the Franciscan missionary school, then after attending the minor seminary, was sent to neighboring Malawi, to take philosophy courses with the White Fathers. In 1947, the future cardinal entered the novitiate of the Franciscans in the Portuguese province of Varatojo, near Lisbon. He made his solemn profession in 1951, and was ordained a priest on June 25, 1953.

After the proclamation of independence of Mozambique, on December 23, 1974, José Maria dos Santos was appointed by Paul VI archbishop of Maputo. He established the Caritas movement in Mozambique, and was its first president.

He was created cardinal by John Paul II during the consistory of June 28, 1988. Cardinal dos Santos remained at the head of his archdiocese of Maputo until February 2003.

The cardinal celebrated his 80th birthday in 2004 and was therefore never an elector in a conclave, having passed the age limit before the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Throne of Peter in 2005.

Papal visit

In 2019, Pope Francis visited Mozambique. In an address to bishops, priests, religious and catechists, he said:

You, at least the older ones among you, witnessed how division and conflict ended in war. You must always be ready to “visit,” to shorten distances. The Church in Mozambique is invited to be the Church of the Visitation; it cannot be part of the problem of rivalry, disrespect and division that pits some against others, but instead a door to solutions, a space where respect, interchange and dialogue are possible.

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