An archbishop and three bishops from African nations, singing "We Shall Overcome," prayed hopefully with a Roman Catholic congregation in Baltimore yesterday for an end to wars, droughts and famine in their homelands.
Confidently, the visiting African clerics also sang, "Peace is flowing like a river, flowing out from you to me, flowing out into the desert, setting all the captives free."
After the hymn-singing at the Fayette Street headquarters of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Jaime Pedro Goncalves of Beira, Mozambique, was optimistic about a new birth of freedom in his country.
Years of warfare in Mozambique have been followed by two years of peace now, and "the elections this month will go well," the archbishop predicted.
With the visitors at a Mass in the CRS building, Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard urged "concern for the Earth" as he led the prayers for "our brothers and sisters on the continent of Africa who suffer from lack of food, from lack of justice, from oppression."
Later, Archbishop Goncalves said in an interview that the 22 parishes under his supervision and church leaders in the 11 other Catholic dioceses of Mozambique have been successfully preparing its citizens for the elections scheduled Oct. 27 and 28.
The Catholic Church has "organized seminars and meetings on reconciliation" and trained "grass-roots social integrators" in the parishes, Archbishop Goncalves said.
The other African bishops meeting with the staff of the relief agency were Damiao Antonio Franklin of the Diocese of Luanda in Angola; Patrick Mumbure Mutume of Mutare, Zimbabwe; and Zekarias Yohannes of Asmara, Eritrea.
Blessed on the altar, which was draped with a cloth of African design, was a small Nandina, or "heavenly bamboo," tree. Bishop Ricard said this "symbol of life" would be planted in the courtyard of the building to commemorate the visit of the African churchmen.
Last week, the visiting bishops were part of a delegation of 10 African churchmen at a meeting at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh sponsored by Catholic Relief Services. Its aim was "to help the bishops develop the vision, background and conflict resolution skills to make the church a stronger force in peacemaking on the troubled African continent."
But reminders of violence at home cast a pall over the Pittsburgh meeting, the bishops said. Among the scheduled participants had been Bishop Thaddee Nsengiyumva of Kabgayi in Rwanda, one of the three Catholic church leaders assassinated last spring in the Rwandan civil war.
In remarks prepared for a meeting of the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs last night, Kenneth F. Hackett, executive director of CRS, said, "My contention is that unless and until [Rwanda and Burundi] can reconcile their people -- until they can diminish the fears which have been created over decades -- they cannot establish democratic society."
At Catholic Relief Services, which has a history of 30 years of efforts in Rwanda and Burundi, he said, "we now realize that if we are not consciously engaged in a process which integrates reconciliation into all aspects of our work, nothing lasting will be accomplished."