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Catholic Bishop Expresses Solidarity with Victims of Mozambique’s Palma Attack

Bishop António Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo during the Palm Sunday Mass streamed live on Facebook.

A Catholic Bishop has expressed solidarity with the people of God affected by Mozambique’s Palma attack that left dozens of foreigners and locals killed.

In his Palm Sunday homily, the Apostolic Administrator Mozambique’s Pemba Diocese, which covers the scene of the attack expressed “communion with his fellow brothers and sisters in Palma district.”

Bishop António Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo who implored for an immediate end to violence in the Southern African nation said, “God, show us another way, not the way of violence, not the way of cruelty, but the way of love, of fraternity.”

On March 24, Islamist militants reportedly attacked the town of Palma in Cabo Delgado Province, with witnesses saying they saw casualties in streets following the attack, according to multiple media reports.

“Last Wednesday, a group of terrorists sneaked into … Palma and launched actions that resulted in the cowardly murder of dozens of defenseless people,” Mozambique’s Defense Ministry spokesman, Omar Saranga told a news conference Sunday, March 28.

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According to a March 29 Human Rights Watch report, “Hundreds of people remain missing five days after an Islamic State (ISIS)-linked armed group known as Al-Shabab raided the town of Palma in Mozambique’s Northern Cabo Delgado Province, killing and wounding an unknown number of civilians and causing thousands to flee.”

In its initial update following the March 24 attack, Mozambique’s government indicated that the attack, which involved hundreds of militants targeted shops, banks, as well as a military barracks in Palma, a town in proximity with a major gas project under the auspices of the French energy enterprise, Total.

Palma is near a major gas project run by the French energy giant Total, and more than 100 workers and civilians took refuge in the town's Amarula Palma hotel.

Local authorities and private entities such as Total have facilitated the rescue of at 1,300 people who arrived in the Port city of Pemba by boat March 28 morning, Human Rights Watch has reported, adding, “The Mozambican authorities need to be more forthcoming about ongoing violence in Palma, and Cabo Delgado Province more generally, and the actions they are taking to keep civilians safe and protect their human rights.”

Since the insurgency started in 2017 in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province, the attacks have left at least 2,500 people dead and 700,000 homeless, according to media reports.

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The violence started after Islamist jihadists attacked a military base and police station in the Coastal town of Mocimboa da Praia, where foreign companies are undertaking a US$60 billion gas oil project.

Last December, the then Local Ordinary of Pemba Diocese, Bishop Luis Fernando Lisboa, said the exploitation of natural resources is the cause of the crisis in Cabo Delgado Province.

Bishop Lisboa who was transferred to Brazil's Diocese of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim and elevated to “Archbishop ad personam” on February 11 called on the Portuguese government to table a debate in the European Union (EU) to discuss the exploitation of natural resources in Mozambique.

In his Palm Sunday homily during the Eucharistic celebration that was streamed live on Facebook, Bishop Juliasse appealed for prayers for an immediate end to the violence in the troubled region saying, “We trust that Jesus will put an end to the sufferings of our province of Cabo Delgado, so that this war that no one understands ends as soon as possible.” 

He reminded the authorities of their duty to guarantee justice and “to preserve people from evils.”

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“Justice in a nation is non-negotiable. A leader who does not practice justice ceases to be a true leader,” the Apostolic Administrator of Pemba Diocese who doubles as Auxiliary Bishop of Mozambique’s Maputo Archdiocese said March 28.

“Those who govern must look at the poorest, the smallest and help them to get out of poverty,” the 53-year-old Bishop said, adding, “Let there not be some who are privileged and others who are simply excluded, for religious, political, ethnic or even regional reasons.”

Religious leaders cannot encourage violence because “there is no religion of violence,” Bishop Juliasse further said, adding that those who govern cannot “wash their hands like Pilate, because washing one's hands is to condemn the innocent.”

“If a leader washes his hands, he thereby condemns all the people he governs,” the Catholic Church leader further said during his March 28 homily.

He invited Catholics in the region to participate in the Holy Week celebrations through radio and social media networks as public worship has been suspended amid measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the Southern African nation.