12 Apr Pope Francis receives the leaders of the “St Francis Farm” project
“St Francis Farm” seeks to implement the values of the encyclicals Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti in a village in Mozambique. The project was conceived by the Friars Minor of the Custody of St Clare of Assisi in Mozambique to transform a large piece of land owned by the Franciscans into a place of agricultural production and a professional school for the local community. After an exchange of letters with Pope Francis – who showed great appreciation for this project – a delegation of the leaders of “St Francis Farm” was received privately by the Holy Father on Thursday, 7 April, for a meeting lasting about forty minutes.
“We went there to thank him for his support and accompaniment on this journey that he himself invited us to undertake when he spoke of the Church going out to the existential and geographical peripheries of the world,” said Br Jorge Alberto Bender, in charge of the project. He was joined by two other Mozambican friars and three benefactors.
Of Argentinean origin, Br Jorge knew the Holy Father from his days as a student at the seminary in Buenos Aires, where Bergoglio was a teacher at the time. He remembered me and joked that I was a very good football player when we played between religious colleges,” said Br Jorge. “We thanked the Pope also because we had the opportunity to present this project at the Vatican last September”.
The Holy Father, in a series of handwritten letters, expressed his full support. “I like the project you are carrying out, inspired by the encyclicals Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti,” he wrote in 2021. “The hope is that the people there and here in Europe will understand the scope and significant benefit of this project and become active and participate with prayer, good intentions, and economic collaboration. I urge them to do so. Be courageous!”.
The Franciscan friars have been present in Mozambique since 1898. In these 123 years, in the most varied and challenging social and political situations, they have always sought to promote the integral formation of the human person.
The farm site is located near Jécua, in the Manica province of central Mozambique, on a 206-hectare plot of land, strategically situated on the national road linking the city of Beira with Zimbabwe.
“With this project, we aim to enhance the value of work as a source of fulfilment and dignity for individuals and families,” explains Br Jorge. “We want to break with the mindset of paternalistic assistance, creating solidarity structures to empower the individual and avoid emigration to the big cities and other countries”. Br Jorge, recently elected Vicar of the Custody of St Clare in Mozambique, now divides his time between manual work in the fields of the Franciscan friary and work in the parish, which includes some 74 rural communities in the surrounding area. “Africa does not need me; it is I who need Africa,” he says. “Meeting this people has changed my outlook and always pushes me to real conversion, to Franciscan life. Their liturgies are very long, but the people are happy to sing, dance, participate, and celebrate Mass, even with a few objects. What always strikes me is their joy”.