Years after he had been appointed Bishop of Xai-Xai in Mozambique, now Cardinal Júlio Duarte Langa, 87, was asked how he had reacted to the announcement. He explained: “Well I think the Holy Father at the time was looking for someone better and not finding anyone exceptional he just settled for what was available—that’s how they chose me!”
Born in 1927 in the southern town on the coast of the Indian Ocean that he would later lead, Cardinal Langa was a priest for almost 20 years when he was ordained bishop; he would serve in Xai-Xai for 28 years, from 1976 until his retirement in 2004. While serving as bishop he was put in charge of the priests of Mozambique, and was much beloved for his care, fatherly style.
A talented linguist, the cardinal was also responsible for translating the texts of Vatican II into the vernacular languages of Mozambique.
But more than anything, according to Archbishop João Nunes of Maputo, Mozambique, what distinguished Cardinal Langa was his steady presence. “While others travel around the country and the world, he remains at his diocese prioritizing the poorer population in the region.”
Though Mozambique is more than twice the size of California, has a Gross Domestic Product of nearly 15 billion and new gas and coal mines, it has the seventh lowest GDP per capita in the entire world, roughly $1046 per person. The life expectancy for the nation’s 25 million people is just 52.6 years.
Speaking to Canadian Catholic TV network Salt & Light, Archbishop Nunes said of the nomination of Cardinal Langa: “It is those who remain anonymous, who do not stand out much, who do the most work and carry God’s words farther. I believe that Pope Francis, with these nominations, has tried to remind the world that there are God’s children in places like this who have not been correctly represented.”
How do you feel about being named cardinal? How has your family reacted?
In the beginning I was surprised and I almost didn’t believe it. It never came to my mind [that this might happen]. But I thanked the Lord because I understood that I am only a representative of my younger brother bishops who assume the responsibility of this local church in a very difficult moment of political change in the country.
My family, of course, was pleased because they felt honored.
What do you hope for the church today?
With the New Evangelization, beginning especially with concern for the family, that the church will spark new vigor and new energy to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ.
What is one message you feel the church should be offering to today’s world?
The message of the Gospel continues to be a novelty in our times and has the ability to respond to all the problems of today's society, since it can adapt to the circumstances of time and place as long as people do not allow themselves to be suffocated by material goods.
What are the most pressing issues facing your region and community?
Our region of Southern Africa faces many problems, among which stand out poverty with its inherent consequences—unemployment and crime; the endemic diseases, without appropriate means to combat them; corruption, and the superstitions that compel many people to engage in the practice of negative ancestral customs.
What has your work and your community taught you about God and the church?
The people of this region believe in the existence of a higher being that governs creation. If there are atheists, they don’t practice or they are few. So I have learned from these believing communities; they taught me to live in the presence of this good God that Jesus revealed to us in his church.
What’s an image of God, passage from scripture or figure from church history that you look to for support and encouragement?
I think that all Scripture, and particularly the Son, shows us the Father and Good Shepherd who cares for his flock and asks mercy especially for the lost sheep. He supports and encourages me in my vocation, as does the young Carmelite Thérèse of the Child Jesus who discovered the immensity of God's love.
Finally: what are your hopes for next October’s Synod?
In the framework of the New Evangelization program that the church has launched, the theme of next Synod is fundamentally the family as the school of life and love. I hope that participants in the Synod, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, find appropriate mechanisms to be adopted to revitalize and reinvigorate the so-degraded institution of family in our society.
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