Why Persecution in Mozambique is “an injustice that is crying out to heaven”

Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of the diocese of Pemba, which is in the region of Cabo Delgado.
Credit: ACN

A Bishop in Mozambique has decried the reigning oppression of people who speak against the increased attacks that mainly target the Church in the southern African country, terming the attacks as “an injustice that is crying out to heaven”.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of the diocese of Pemba, which is in the region of Cabo Delgado that has witnessed a spate of attacks including massacres of Christians as well as burning down of churches, said people were not allowed to speak openly about the attacks, and those who dared to report them are punished.

“The situation is a very grave one, because we can’t speak about it openly,” said Bishop Lisboa.

He added, “Some journalists in the country have been arrested, and many of them have had their cameras confiscated. There is a journalist from the Community Radio station of Palma, Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco, who has been missing since 7 April.”

According to the Bishop, it is important for the international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union and the African Union to know what is happening in Mozambique and to do something about it.

“The people here have suffered greatly; there have been hundreds of deaths, thousands of people forced from their homes. In our province we have over 200,000 refugees,” he said, and added, “It is an injustice that is crying out to heaven.”

“The people here have very little, and what little they have, they are losing because of this war. I appeal for help and solidarity for my people, so that they can live in peace once again, as they desire and as they deserve to do,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Brazilian-born Prelate condemned the jihadist attacks that have increased in the region since the beginning of the year, terming them “a tragedy, a real shame, and a disgrace to the citizens of the Southern African nation.”

The Bishop was reacting to the March 23 incident when armed jihadists attacked and took control of the port of Mocímboa da Praia, a town of around 20,000 inhabitants within the province of Cabo Delgado, in the north of Mozambique.

In the recent interview with ACN, the Bishop revealed that the March 23 incident was followed by high levels of insecurity in the town as residents fled to the bushing, leaving behind criminals who terrorized their homesteads.

In the following days, during the Holy week, residents also woke up to the shocking news of the massacre on April 7 of 52 young people who refused to join the terrorist group. On a Good Friday, April 10, the residents found the property of a church burned down.

“In the district of Muidumbe, seven small towns or villages were attacked in fact during the days of Holy Week, among others that of Muambula where the Catholic mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is situated, in Nangololo,” the Bishop explained.

He added in reference to the perpetrators, “They attacked the church and burnt the benches and a statue of Our Lady, made of ebony. They also destroyed an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to whom the parish is dedicated. Fortunately, they were unable to burn the building itself, only the benches.”

The Bishop denounced the attack in Nangololo, saying that the mission was one of the most treasured projects in the diocese.

“The tragic thing for us is that this mission in Nangololo is almost a hundred years old and is the second most important mission in the diocese. So, it was a very tragic attack in what it symbolizes,” he said.

Though local media in Mozambique have reported a total of 26 attacks this year alone, Bishop Lisboa says the number could be higher.

“I don’t know exactly how many attacks there have been altogether. But as I said, in this last wave alone they attacked seven towns and villages. Today I read a news bulletin that speaks of 26 attacks so far this year. But to tell you the truth, I think the true figure will have been higher,” he says.

Though the Islamic state has claimed responsibility of nearly all the attacks, it is unclear to citizens of the southern African country who is behind the insurgence, with many believing that the country’s rich natural resources could be the cause of all the suffering.

“We don’t know what is behind all this, but we imagine that it has to do with the natural resources,” Bishop Lisboa attempts to explain, adding, “There are many financial interests and those who are funding all this are finding fertile ground due to the poverty, the lack of opportunities and the resulting youth unemployment.”

According to the Local Ordinary of Pemba, “Cabo Delgado has always been a very poor province, neglected by everyone, including the authorities. What we’re seeing is the result of all these factors.”

Asked whether the torching down of church property was the first attack on a church in the area, the Prelate said the alleged jihadists had lodged similar attacks in the past where mosques were also targeted.

“No, this was not the first attack on a church,” he said and added, “They had already attacked and burnt five or six local chapels, but they also burned some mosques. Although ultimately, it seems, the target is the Christian churches.”

ACN notes that Pope Francis has been one of the few international figures to speak publicly about the terrorist violence in the province of Cabo Delgado, in the north of Mozambique.

“It is a tragedy ignored by many and unknown to others,” the charity organization reports on its website.

The worrying insecurity level in Mozambique is now forcing the Church in the country to send missionaries away for fear for their lives.

According to Bishop Lisboa, official government personnel, such as teachers and healthcare workers, have left the districts that are targeted by the insurgents, leaving the religious to their devices.

“A large proportion of the population has fled out of fear. And several foreign NGOs, which were operating within the territory have also left because they were being threatened,” he says.

The Bishop says he has been asking missionaries to vacate the diocese from the time the terrorists shifted their attention from government facilities and started attacking churches as well.

“I asked the missionaries to leave because as their diocesan bishop I am responsible for them and the risk of attacks was imminent, given that they were the only ones who had remained,” he says, adding, “They (terrorists) were starting to attack churches, and the violence was taking on a religious dimension. I have to keep them safe, although they want to return as soon as they can in order to serve the people.”

And government efforts to drive the terrorists from these areas are not bearing fruit owing to lack of training of the security forces in the area, Bishop Lisboa observes.

“There are many young people in the military who are mere conscripts, and when the attacks take place there are many desertions and they flee to the woods with the people. They have very little training and little ability to cope with this situation,” he says.

Bishop Lisboa adds, “I feel terrible sorrow for the young people who have to go and fight, because a great many of them have already lost their lives.”


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