He spoke truth to power in Portuguese colonial Mozambique. Inevitably, this brought him into direct conflict with the dreaded colonial police -PIDE, Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado. He was probably one of a handful who dared criticise President Samora Michel (sometimes face to face) and actually be listened to by Samora.
Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
Vatican News’ Portuguese correspondent, Rui Saraiva reported on the death of Archbishop Vieira Pinto which occurred on 30 April. The Archbishop died in Portugal at the Casa Sacerdotal of the Diocese of Porto, aged 96 years. He was put to rest on 1 May 2020 in Cedofeita, a municipality of Porto.
Born in Amarante, Portugal, Manuel Vieira Pinto was appointed Bishop of Nampula in 1967. The Province of Nampula is situated in the north of Mozambique. Bishop Pinto would later be elevated to the status of Archbishop when Beira and Nampula were elevated as Archdioceses in 1984.
A defender of African human rights in Mozambique
Archbishop Vieira Pinto was a fierce critic of Portuguese colonialism and the colonial war at a time when it was extremely unpopular to do so. As a Portuguese citizen, some of the settler community viewed him as a traitor of sorts. His defence of human rights for ordinary Mozambicans created many enemies both in Mozambique and Portugal.
Rethinking the colonial war
A prolific writer, Vieira Pinto, wrote many socio-political pastoral letters. These were mostly reflections defending the rights of Mozambicans, condemning colonialism, the colonial war and insisting on the right of Mozambicans to self-determination.
Dr Celestino Victor Musomar, who lives in Rome, Italy, says Vieira Pinto was the leading voice of an outspoken group of missionaries -priests and nuns who took to heart Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio, (1967). In the encyclical, Paul VI calls for “ever more effective world solidarity (that) should allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny.”
The 1974 pastoral letters of Vieira Pinto: “Rethinking the War” and “An Imperative of Conscience” polarised opinion and raised anger among some at the pillar of Portuguese colonialism. The colonial government expelled Archbishop Pinto from Mozambique on 14 April 1974 to Cartaxo in Portugal.
Mozambican priest, Fr. Bernardo Suate, of Vatican Radio’s Portuguese Africa Service, drew attention to a Rádio Renascença interview of Archbishop Vieira Pinto. In it, the Archbishop speaks of how the PIDE picked him from his house in Nampula. He thought he was going to the Police office for questioning. Instead, he was taken straight to the airport in Nampula, then flown to Beira where he was put on a special overnight plane to Lisbon in Portugal. Fortunately for him, arriving in Lisbon, Church authorities alerted to his presence, secured his release. He returned to Mozambique in 1975. It was the year of the country’s independence.
A Bishop ahead of his time
The Online publication, Club of Mozambique, quotes Bishop Manuel da Silva Rodrigues Linda, the current Bishop of the Diocese of Porto saying to Rádio Renascença about the life of Archbishop Manuel Vieira Pinto:
“The truth is that he was already a Bishop and a priest from another time. Anyway, in my time as a student, I often heard of Dom Manuel Vieira Pinto, who, as Bishop of Nampula, was a man who defended the rights of the people of Mozambique and condemned, from the first moment, colonialism and the colonial war. This made him a persona non grata for the ‘Estado Novo’ regime. But he will be remembered as one of the greatest in the Mozambican state,” recalled Bishop Linda.
Post-independent Mozambique and more trouble
Mozambique attained its independence in 1975 with Samora Machel as its first president. The new government adopted a Marxist-Leninist type of governance. As the government nationalised land, it also took over much of the Church’s property. It was a particularly difficult time for the Church in Mozambique.
Archbishop Vieira Pinto continued to fight for the dignity, rights and freedoms of Mozambicans. To the surprise of many, he continued to hold accountable, the country’s new leaders. He condemned Frelimo’s re-education camps and spoke against Mozambique’s fratricidal civil war between Frelimo and Renamo (1977 to 1992). One million Mozambicans perished in the civil war.
“Manuel Vieira Pinto -O Visionário de Nampula”
Father José Luzia’s book, “Manuel Vieira Pinto -O Visionário de Nampula” (The Visionary of Nampula) is not a biography about the Archbishop. The book recounts instead and immortalises the 34-year extraordinary journey (1967-2001) of Archbishop Manuel Vieira Pinto in the Archdiocese of Nampula.
A telling story in the book recounts how during colonial times, Archbishop Vieira Pinto disembarked from a plane. As befitting his status at the time, government officials and leading colonial nationals of Nampula were at the airport to welcome him. Laid out for the Archbishop were beautiful flowers in a small but special welcome ceremony. Then Archbishop Vieira Pinto glimpsed, from behind the ranks of the Portuguese settler community several African faces straining to catch a glimpse of him. Without thinking twice, the Archbishop broke with protocol, walked over to the now stunned but overjoyed crowd of ordinary Mozambicans. As if that was not enough, Vieira Pinto took a child from the arms of a Macua mother. In a unique and prophetic gesture, he held up the Macua child to the bright African Sun. It was a disturbing moment for colonial officials and the Portuguese entourage present.
End of an era
Archbishop Manuel Vieira Pinto’s dedication to the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching will forever be remembered in Mozambique and beyond. He was a loyal son of the Church; an extraordinary, courageous, prophetic, and firm missionary who never compromised on the truth even if it led to much personal suffering.
(Club of Mozambique, Jornal Noticias, Rádio Renascença, Manuel Vieira Pinto -O Visionário de Nampula, Prof. Dr Celestino Victor Musomar, Fr. Bernardo Suate, Rui Saraiva, Vatican Radio archives)