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“Church has lent its voice to be voice of the poor”: Bishop in Mozambique amid Attacks

Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Diocese of Pemba, in Cabo Delgado in the north of Mozambique.

A Bishop in Mozambique says the Catholic Church in the Southern African nation has become the voice of the country’s poor people who are suffering “the most” amid armed conflict in the region of Cabo Delgado that is part of Pemba Diocese.

“The Church has lent its voice to be the voice of the poor, of those who have no time, of those who do not have the opportunity of being in front of a camera, as I am now, and of being able to speak,” Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Mozambique’s Pemba Diocese says in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International.

In the report about the interview published Thursday, December 3, Bishop Lisboa says speaking on behalf of the poor “is the first work” and that “the Church is committed to the truth because we follow Jesus, who said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’.”

“We are not afraid because we are telling the truth,” the Bishop, a member of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (CP), popularly known as Passionists says in the interview report obtained by ACI Africa.

By speaking up against the violence, Bishop Lisboa says, the Church in Mozambique is doing “what Pope Francis speaks about so often: we want to save people’s dignity; we want social justice; we want people to have their rights respected, we want people to live in peace.”

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“This is not asking too much. It is in the constitutions of all countries, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the Bible itself and in the Koran. What we religious people ask for is peace,” the Local Ordinary of Pemba that covers Cabo Delgado Province emphasizes and poses, “Is it too much to ask for peace? That is the work of the Church.”

Located in Northern Mozambique, Cabo Delgado has witnessed growing instability since October 2017 when Islamist jihadists attacked a military base and a police station in the Coastal town of Mocimboa da Praia, where foreign companies are undertaking a US$ 60 billion gas oil project. Two police officers died in the attack.

The three-year violent insurgency has reportedly led to the displacement of at least 355,000 people according to the UNHCR whose leadership is now appealing for US$ 19.2 million to meet the most basic needs of the displaced people.

“Over half a million displaced people need everything! They need food, clothes, medicine, pots, they need attention, a place to live, everything,” Bishop Lisboa says in the December 3 report and adds, “It is a war that has brought much suffering to all of us.” 

War has only losers, but those who suffer most are the poorest, the Brazilian-born Prelate bemoans in the interview with the Pontifical foundation, ACN International.

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Amid the violence and subsequent displacement of people, the 64-year-old Bishop says that all the missionaries are united and are “all working to minimize this humanitarian crisis, to meet the most vulnerable, to try to do something to reduce suffering.”

“The Church has worked through Caritas, which is its humanitarian arm, to respond to this emergency we have experienced,” the Bishop of Pemba who has often denounced the violence says.

Making reference to the Catholic Church in Mozambique, he reiterates, “We are all working to minimize this humanitarian crisis, to meet the most vulnerable, to try to do something to reduce suffering. We are not afraid because we are telling the truth.”

In the wake of escalating violence in Cabo Delgado, jihadists destroyed the Diocese’s second oldest church, the Mission of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Nangololo, which the insurgents had reportedly occupied for 20 days.

“The second most important mission of the Diocese has been totally destroyed, the church, the Priests’ house, the Sisters’ house, the community radio, the outpatient clinic – totally devastated,” Bishop Lisboa says referencing various Church projects at the Catholic Mission of Nangololo of his Diocese of Pemba.

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He adds, “The people had already fled the mission through the woods, to other cities and here to Pemba. We help many people, so that they can go to safer places.”

On the cause of the three-year-old conflict, Bishop Lisboa who has shepherded the people of God in Pemba since his appointment in June 2013 clarifies, “Christians are not the main target of terrorists.”

“Many important Christian churches like the one I have mentioned, the mission of Nangololo, have been burned. The historic church of Mocímboa da Praia has been burned as well as many rural chapels,” he says in the December 3 report adding, “Mosques have also been burned.”

Others who have been killed include, catechists, community animators, two Catholic Sisters, as well as a Muslim chief and other leaders, the Bishop says reiterating, “It is not a war against Christians.”

“Among the religious leaders here in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, we have a good relationship and there has never been a problem between us,” he adds.

To those behind the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, Bishop Lisboa says, “There are no winners in wars. We all lose. There are people who profit; they think they win, but they are also losers.”