As he shared photos, handshakes and jokes about knee-related health problems, Pope Francis received a special gift on Tuesday as he greeted journalists at the beginning of his flight from Rome to Nur-Sultan.
Eva Fernández, a reporter for Spanish Radio station Cope, gave the Pope a pagne—or stole—which is a traditional garment of Mozambique, where it called a capulana, and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa and can symbolize life.
Symbol of life
The gift was meant to recall Sister Maria De Coppi, an Italian-born Comboni missionary, who was murdered in Mozambique on 7 September. The 84-year-old nun was shot to death during an attack on a Catholic church in the town of Chipene, in the northern part of the country.
The journalist also gave the Pope a note to explain the meaning of the stole, which is often used to wrap newborn babies or tie them to their mother’s back. Women wear it on their heads as they get married, and give one to their mothers as a sign of gratitude for raising them.
The capulana are also present at liturgies, which express people’s faith and the mystery of Jesus’ life. When someone falls ill, he or she is covered with this stole, and when a person dies they are lowered into the earth with it.
Request for prayers
“This cloth belongs to women, even the poorest woman, because with it she carries life, from beginning to end,” read the note accompanying the gift for Pope Francis.
The black and white capulana and note was given to the Pope by the Comboni religious sisters, who asked for prayers for Mozambique as people suffer from insecurity.
In response, Pope Francis thanked the nuns he called “sisters of the peripheries” for their thoughtful gift.
In their note, the Comboni sisters said they hoped to present the Pope with “the life of the Mozambican people who currently need care and to be protected with the capulan of prayer, justice, nearness, and solidarity.”
Insecurity in Mozambique
Parts of Mozambique have been plagued by violence in recent years, especially in the northern Cabo Delgado region where jihadist groups have been operating since 2017.
Nearly 800,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.
After Sr. De Coppi’s death, Pope Francis prayed that her “witness might give strength and courage to Christians and all the people of Mozambique”, as he recited the Angelus prayer on 11 September.
The Comboni sisters also released a statement in the wake of her death.
"The death of our sister will regenerate missionary life in Mozambique and around the world," the Combonians wrote. "With immense sorrow for the murder of our sister, Maria De Coppi, and for the attack on the mission in Chipene (Mozambique) last Sept. 6, we Comboni Missionary Sisters wish to reaffirm our commitment to remain united in prayer, solidarity and Mission, just when the work gets harder. The steps of missionaries in this land do not stop because of violence. The death of our sister will become a seed that will regenerate missionary life in Mozambique and throughout the world."