Cardinal Alexandre José Maria dos Santos, O.F.M., Archbishop emeritus of Maputo (Mozambique), was born on 18 March 1924 in Zavala, diocese of Inhambane, Mozambique. He attended the minor seminary of the Franciscans in Amatongas, in the central zone of Mozambique. He was then sent to Nyasaland, today known as Malawi, to study philosophy. At that time, in fact, a major seminary still did not exist in Mozambique.
In 1947 he was admitted to the novitiate of the Portuguese province of the Franciscans in Varatojo, near Lisbon. In 1948 he studied theology at Lisbon. Having made his solemn profession, he was ordained a priest on 25 June 1953. He returned to his country in 1954 and carried out his pastoral ministry in the Franciscan missions of the Inhambane region. In 1972 he became councilor of the Franciscan province of Mozambique and rector of the new minor seminary of the country in Vila Pery, today Chimoio.
After Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, on 23 December 1974 he was elected Archbishop of Maputo. He received his episcopal ordination on 9 March 1975. He became very dedicated in favor of the peoples afflicted by civil war and natural calamities. He founded the Caritas of Mozambique and was its first president. He promoted programs to help the poor, refugees and victims of drought. He was also dedicated to promoting new relations among the ecclesial communities of countries which were Portuguese colonies: Angola Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tomé and Principe.
On 22 August 1981 he founded the "Franciscanas de Nossa Senhora de Mae de Africa". It is an African religious institute for Mozambican girls with the aim of making religious life flourish in the country.
In September 1988 he welcomed John Paul II in his pastoral visit to Mozambique.
Cardinal Santos was ordained the first priest, first Bishop and also first Cardinal native of Mozambique.
Archibishop emeritus of Maputo, 22 February 2003.
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by St. John Paul II in the consistory of 28 June 1988, of the Title of St. Frumentius ai Prati Fiscali.