, 22 June, 2020 / 7:06 PM
On Thursday, June 4, a Carmelite nun working in Macomia, a small town in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, stealthily walked in the company of other Sisters of Religious Order to their residence that had been abandoned for a month as terrorists wreaked havoc in the southern African country.
The nuns had vacated their house a few days to the morning of May 28 when gun-wielding men landed on villages in the small town, pulling down houses, looting homesteads and leaving countless villagers maimed in the wake of the attack that lasted three days.
“It was fierce, cruel”, Sr. Blanca Nubia Castaño, the Theresian Carmelite sister of St. Joseph reported about the attack in a Facebook post that was shared by the Catholic pastoral charity organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).
The Carmelite nun recounted that as a result of the May 28 “barbarism”, the urban area was completely destroyed with most of the state's infrastructure and the commercial area reduced to ashes.
She added, “Our mission was saved by being on the top, next to a military base.”
Additionally, many people died in the attack, according to the Catholic nun who said that the number of those who lost their lives has not been ascertained.
Sister Blanca says in her Facebook post that she and the other Carmelite Sisters who have been in Macomia for 16 years on their Education apostolate, aware of the danger they were in, had abandoned their central mission station, which includes a school and boarding house, just a few days before the attack.
Earlier this month, the Sisters decided to return to Macomia to assess the extent of the damage done by the terrorists, in oblivion of the danger that still hovered around.
“Even though the risks haven't completely passed, today (June 4) we decided to go visit, encourage and help at least our workers and their families,” the nun said, and added, “For security concerns, we had to return today to the other mission where we are refugees.”
Violence has been on a steady rise in Cabo Delgado for nearly five years, with experts terming the area the “latest Islamic State hotspot.”
According to a report, fighting in the region of Cabo Delgado started in October 2017 when an Islamist armed group known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a (ASWJ) attacked a police station in Mocimboa da Praia district. Since then, the group has reportedly carried out more than 350 attacks, killing over 600 people and leaving thousands displaced.
International media have reported that the terrorist group, which has in the recent past launched large-scale, sophisticated military assaults in the area “has spent the past two years operating in the shadows, attacking remote villages across the province, ambushing army patrols on isolated roads, instilling terror in many rural communities, forcing perhaps 200,000 people to flee from their homes.”
Though rarely giving any indication about their motives or demands, the attacks “may have something to do with the discovery of rich submarine deposits of natural gas just off the coast of the province,” the leadership of ACN International attempts to explain.
“The operations of the terrorists have intensified since the beginning of this year, and they are sowing terror among the population, burning towns and villages and attacking civilians on the roads or those travelling by public transport,” the leadership of the Pontifical foundation that focuses on supporting local churches has reported.
In 2015, a delegation from ACN International visited the Carmelite Sisters in Macomia and also funded a vehicle for their pastoral work.
“I am deeply saddened by the situation in Macomia, and especially so since I personally met with the Carmelite Sisters during my most recent visit to Mozambique”, said Rafael D’Aquí, who heads the charity’s international desk for projects in Mozambique.
He had been particularly impressed by the work of these Sisters, since “their commitment extends not only to the boarding school they run but also to the entire population in the surrounding area.”
In addition to looking after the pupils in their care, they also help the families and the teachers themselves. At the same time, they run a healthcare program, especially helping young mothers learning to breastfeed and providing basic primary health care for their babies as well.
The attacks in Mozambique have been a cause for anxiety and worry, with a section of Catholic Bishops in the southern African country expressing concerns about “the worsening situation in Cabo Delgado which, in practice, has become the scene of a mysterious and incomprehensible conflict.”
The Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Nampula, one of the three Ecclesiastical Provinces in Mozambique in the region of Cabo Delgado expressed their concern in a collective statement they released Thursday, May 28 following the attack that the Carmelite Sisters fled from.
Expressing the devastation that followed the attack, Sr. Blanca said, “Our soul hurts from the attack on our brothers, we are unworthy of injustice, we are saddened by uncertainty and we feel powerless. We only have to wait and trust the God of Life.”
According to the Catholic nun, people had, on June 3 started slowly returning to homes that had been vandalized.
“Some (houses) were burned, others looted. Remember that only one year ago we experienced the destruction of Cyclone Kenneth’s passage and many people had already managed to rebuild,” she said, referring to the tropical cyclone that affected the province of Cabo Delgado, causing widespread destruction.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa