Standing across from each other on Independence Square at the heart of this lovely oceanside city are two monuments from its Portuguese colonial past -- a massive brown stone city hall building and a lofty silver painted Roman Catholic cathedral.

Today, a bigger-than-life-size portrait of President Samora Machel is affixed to the front of the city hall and, when mass rallies are held in the square, red flags flutter in the breeze and the chanting of Marxist slogans echoes off the cathedral's towering walls.

The cathedral and city hall are symbols of two institutions -- church and state -- that worked hand-in-hand during colonial times. But since Mozambique's independence in June 1975, the two have been on a collision course, particularly after the ruling Frelimo party officially adopted a Marxist-Leninist ideology two years ago this month.

The simmering conflict seems to be coming to a head with Frelimo's closing of several Catholic and Protestant churches and the restricton of missionary activities in the northern most province.

In Mozambique, as in Angola, the ruling party's reaction to the Catholic Church has been particularly strong because of the church's role in helping the Portuguese to suppress the nationalist cause.

"The Catholic Church in Portugal, as in its colonies, was closed to reformist thinking and backward compared to the church in other European countries," one Frelimo official said.

So far, there is no indication that Machel intends to close down all churches and mosques and completely forbid religious worship. But he clearly is determined to restrict the Catholic Church in particular to a far more limited role in Mozambique's new socialist society and to stop it from acting as a counterforce to Frelimo's authority across the country of 12 million people.

With 1.6 million members, the Catholic Church is far larger than Frelimo, which as a vanguard party counts its carefully selected adherents only in the thousands. There also are an estimated 1 million Moslems and 500,000 protestants, but the Catholic Church apparently is at the center of the dispute now.

Both sides are accusing the other of seeking to divide Mozambican society. Machel argues that the Catholic and Protestant churches and Islam have served to "misdirect" and split the country into contending faiths.

But Catholic Archbishop Alexandre dos Santos argues that Frelimo is dividing society between believers and atheists.

Ironically, most Frelimo leaders owe their initial education to mission school. Moreover, while they have become atheists, many of their parents reportedly are devout Catholics or Protestants, including Machel's Methodist father.

Machel is said to bear a grudge against the Catholic Church. First sent to a Methodis church school, he reportedly was forced to convert to Catholicism in continue his education at a Catholic school.

"You made of a believer an unbeliever because you forced him to become a Catholic," Machel told Dos Santos in Dar es Salaam shortly before Machel marched into Maputo at the head of Frelimo's triumphant guerrila army.

The archbishop is first to recognize that his church's problem in Mozambique has roots deep in the country's colonial history.

"The church made very many big mistakes before independence," he said in an interview at his residence here. "The Portuguese government used the church to rule the people. If you join the oppressor, you become the oppressor, too." Dos Santos said.

Under the old Portuguese concord at regulating church-state relations, the Catholic Church ran all the schools for African children in Mozambique while Europeans attended state schools, according to Dos Santos.

"We inherited this situation," he said, explaining the first issue to arise between the church and state after independence.

One month after Mozambique became free, Frelimo took over running all schools and introduced a state curriculum that, according to Dos Santos, included atheist teachings.

This and hostile statements from Machel convinced the Catholic hierarchy that "the real antagonism was between (marxist) materialism and the spiritual side," Dos Santos said.

On one on either side of the conflict would deny that a fundamental clash exists between Frelimo's Marxist Ideology and religion in Mozambique, just as has occurred in Eastern European countries.

But Frelimo officials say the Catholic Church made things worse by trying to organize a kind of antiparty movement. It set up youth and women's groups similar to those of Frelimo and tried to infiltrate its partisans into the local party, according to these officials.

Dos Santos party confirmed this, indicating that the church had been very active since independence. He said it had been organizing discussion groups for youth and women, distributing food to the people and training lay leaders, apparently in case priests were forbidden to hold services.

But after a meeting in early December between the Catholic bishops and Sergi Vieira, a top Frelimo official, the church agreed to end its discussion groups.

The struggle for the hearts and minds of the Mozambican youth seems to be another central element in the church-state conflict. According to Dos Santos, the party forbids children to attend church until they are 18, and youths at state run colleges also cannot attend. This could not be confirmed, however, with Frelimo officials.

The party, the archbishop explained, is trying to create a "new socialist man" and does not want youth to be influenced by the church.

But, he said, they come anyway, "On Sundays, you find very many small boys and youth going to church," he said.

This and hostile statements from Machel convinced the Catholic hiearchy that "the real antagonism was between 'marxist' materialism and the spiritual side," Dos Santos said.

No one on either side of the conflict would deny that a fundamental clash exists between Frelimo's marxist ideology and religion in Mozambique, just as has occurred in Eastern European countries.

But Frelimo officials say the Catholic Church made things worse by trying to organize a kind of antiparty movement. It set up youth and women's groups similar to those of Frelimo and tried to infiltrate its partisans into the local party, according to these officials.

Dos Santos partly confirmed this, indicating that the church had been very active since independence. He said it had been organizing discussion groups for youth and women, distributing food to the people and training lay leaders, apparently in case priests were forbidden to hold services.

But after a meeting in early December between the Catholic bishops and Sergi Vieira, a top Frelimo official, the church agreed to end its discussion groups.

The struggle for the hearts and minds of the Mozambican youth seems to be another central element in the church-state conflict. According to Dos Santos, the party forbids children to attend church until they are 18, and youths at state run colleges also cannot attend. This could not be confirmed, however, with Frelimo officials.

The party, the archbishop explained, is trying to create a "new socialist man" and does not want youth to be influenced by the church.

But, he said, they come anyway. "On Sundays, you find very many small boys and youth going to church," he said.