What Southern African Delegation Recalls from Mozambique’s Pemba Diocese Solidarity Visit

The delegation of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC).

The four-member delegation came face to face with “human tragedy” during their solidarity visit to the Local Ordinary of Mozambique’s Pemba Diocese earlier this month, a Bishop on the delegation has recounted.

In his blog post titled “Cabo Delgado: tragedy and hope,” Bishop José Luís Ponce de León of Swaziland’s Manzini Diocese recalls their December 2-4 solidarity visit that saw them witness the fighting spirit of the people of God amid insurgent attacks.

“We saw a human tragedy still possible in our days and in our part of the world: the reality of people who had to leave everything behind without thinking twice about it to be able to save their lives and the lives of their families,” Bishop Jose Luis says in the Thursday, December 17 blog post seen by ACI Africa.

The Bishop adds, “Attacked in the early hours of the morning, the choices were escaping, dying or - maybe - being taken.”


During the three-day solidarity visit facilitated by the Dennis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), the delegation members “saw the tragedy of children who separated from their families as they ran away in different directions,” Bishop José Luís, a member of the Consolata Missionaries (IMC), recalls.

“In other cases, parents were in the fields and neighbors protected the children by taking them,” he says and recalls the Bishop of Pemba, Luiz Fernando Lisboa telling them, “one day 35 children arrived in Pemba. They arrived together without their parents."

The delegation that consisted of the Chairperson for Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), Bishop Victor Phalana, SACBC Associate Secretary General, Dominican Sr. Tshifiwa Munzhedzi, and DHPI Director, Johan Viljoen also saw “refugee camps organized by the government to care for the displaced.”

Bishop José Luís recalls that in one of the places they visited, they were told, “After the attacks in September, 14,000 people arrived in the area and they were organized in two camps." Pemba, with a population of 200,000 people, has received 150,000 displaced.

“We saw what it means to have to leave everything behind with the awareness that they may never be able to go back,” the 59-year-old Prelate says referencing the SACBC delegation to Cabo Delgado.

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Making reference to the Mozambican political leadership, the Argentinian-born Prelate adds, “(The) government is allocating land to these families so that they can rebuild their lives in a new place as it is clear that there is no chance – in the foreseeable future – they will be able to go back.”

Located in the Northernmost part of Mozambique, the Province of Cabo Delgado has been the center of attacks by armed insurgents who pay allegiance to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) since October 2017. 

The crisis started when an Islamist armed group known locally as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a (ASWJ) attacked a police station in Mocimboa da Praia district within the gas-rich Cabo Delgado Province. 

The three-year-old crisis has displaced at least 355,000, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.


Amid the insurgency, the SACBC delegation witnessed the “amazing work being done by Caritas Pemba,” which reaches out to the displaced families with food donations received from various people and organizations of goodwill from around the world, Bishop Jose Luis says in his December 17 blog post.

Besides the food donation, Caritas Pemba also offers the displaced families “tools that would allow them to build their future” such as seeds for planting, sewing machines, and tools for carpentry among others, the Bishop of Manzini has says in his blog post.

During the December 2-4 visit to Cabo Delgado, the delegation also saw “an interesting detail – a box where people can report any kind of abuse,” he recalls, adding that the box is meant for “vulnerable people at risk of experiencing more violence and abuse; therefore, a way is offered to them to anonymously share any type of abuse.”

The delegation also saw the “good shepherd heart” of 64-year-old Bishop Lisboa of Pemba who told them, “We now need to rethink completely our pastoral work in the diocese,” the Local Ordinary of Swaziland’s only Diocese, Manzini recalls.

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Through Bishop Lisboa’s initiative, “Priests, who now live in Pemba after their churches and homes have been destroyed, gather during the week, people arriving from a certain area to pray together or for the celebration of the Mass,” Bishop José Luís says in his December 17 blog post.

During the meetings, the Priests and the faithful “update each other on missing relatives, and plan for their future,” he adds in his post.

“We also witnessed the spirit of the people who do not give up and put the best of themselves to rebuild their future and the one of their families,” the Swaziland-based Prelate recalls.

For him, the three-day solidarity visit to the Bishop of Pemba was “particularly intense and the more we talked and visited, the more we remained with unanswered questions: why so much silence?”

“Not many seem to know about the tragedy affecting our neighboring country. Who is behind this war?” he poses and observes, “Any war makes us all poorer but someone clearly is benefiting from it.”

Bishop José Luís adds, “One fears that easy answers are offered to avoid going deeper in the causes... In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of families have lost everything and many more will experience the same fate unless something is done.”