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Cleric in Mozambique Concerned about Whereabouts of Parishioners after Palma Attack

Internally Displaced People seeking refuge in Mozambique's Catholic Diocese of Pemba preparing a meal for people arriving from Palma.

Families that escaped last month’s terrorist attack on Northern Mozambique’s town of Palma in the Catholic Diocese of Pemba are in confusion, unsure of the whereabouts of their loved ones and whether or not those who are missing survived the attack.

Fr. António Chamboco is particularly concerned that there is no information about the whereabouts of his parishioners in the Catholic Diocese of Pemba where the attack took place.

The Catholic Cleric told Pontifical Charity Organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, that although he was not in Palma when the attack began on March 24, he followed the news from afar.

“When I heard about the attack, I felt pain and sadness. Pain because I have been in Palma for a year and have already grown to love the people, the community there,” Fr. António told ACN in a report published Monday, April 5.

The Catholic Priest narrated that as the killings that have been claimed by ISIS went on, it was possible for him to keep in touch with those in Palma, but that the phone lines quickly became unusable, leaving him concerned about the safety of those he had spoken with.

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“I was in contact with two coordinators from the Catholic community during the first phase of the attack. When the network was still working, they informed me that there was some shooting in the village, but five minutes later communication was cut off,” Fr. António said.

The Cleric told the charity organization that one of the coordinators he spoke to was in neighboring Tanzania where he had fled to and where he is believed to be still in hiding.

As for the rest of his parishioners, Fr. António says, “Almost nothing is known about them.”

The Parish Priest does not know whether the church and the parish hall were destroyed by the terrorists. The whereabouts of the people are also uncertain.

ACN reports that Palma had a population of about 50,000, with dozens reported dead, and is now “a ghost town.”

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Images from a video that Johan Vljoen, the Director of Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), shared with ACI Africa showed bodies lumped in various places from the March 24 beheadings.

ACN Project Manager for Mozambique, Ulrich Kny says, in reference to the video, “The images we have seen are shocking. We cannot even share them because they wound human dignity by their brutality.”

“The terrorists seem to want to cause maximum damage and sow the greatest terror in their destructive frenzy,” the ACN official says, and adds, “We wonder how many more deaths there must be before the world does something to stop this violence. These lives do not seem to count. It tears my heart out.”

As for Mr. Viljoen, what happened in Palma is not different from what the world used to see in Iraq.

The head of the peace and charity institute, which is an entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), further said that it took the attack on foreigners “for the world to finally realize the full extent of the crisis in Mozambique.”

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“Whatever the world is seeing now has been going on in Mozambique for years. We have tried to talk about it but no one cared to listen,” the DHPI official told ACI Africa March 30, and added, “There is a global uproar now because a handful of foreigners were affected. But this has been going on. More than 3,000 innocent Mozambicans have died in this violence and no one cared.”

The Cabo Delgado region has been the scene of attacks by armed groups claiming allegiance to ISIS since October 2017, leading the region into a situation of a deep humanitarian crisis.

According to the UN, there were more than 670,000 displaced people and more than 2,500 dead at the end of last year.

ACN notes that with the recent attacks including the one on Palma, the situation has worsened.

“The attack on Palma is a clear escalation of the conflict. Palma was an important place; in the district of Palma, it is estimated that there were more than one hundred thousand people; in addition to the local inhabitants, already more than 40,000 people had sought refuge there, fleeing previous attacks in other districts. What could be more tragic than to flee like prey from one place to another,” said Mr. Kny.

Working with the Catholic Church to help alleviate the suffering especially of the displaced people, the charity foundation has provided an initial emergency grant of US$200,000.00.

ACN has also been supporting the livelihoods of Priests and Religious Sisters in the region, as well as funding the training of Seminarians, as well as other projects related to the most pressing needs of the Church in Mozambique.

“We must increase our financial support and prayers for the Church in Northern Mozambique. In view of the expected drastic increase in the influx of refugees, Mr. Kny says, noting that it is only through support from the outside that the Diocese of Pemba and the neighboring Dioceses, which are already completely overwhelmed by the humanitarian disaster, will be able to increase their work.

The official of the Pontifical Charity Organization underscored the need to act fast to stop what he refers to as “unrestrained violence” in Mozambique’s Northern territories.

“Let us pray for the people, for all those who have lost everything and all those who are missing or in hiding. The world cannot ignore this drama,” Mr. Kny says.

Meanwhile, in a Tuesday, April 6 update on the situation in Mozambique, Mr. Viljoen told ACI Africa that the leadership of the Catholic Diocese of Pemba was working to provide comfort and consolation to residents of Palma who had fled their homes and were now seeking refuge in Southern parts of the town.

Highlighting activities at one of the Catholic Priest at a Parish in Pemba where new IDPs are currently being received, the DHPI official told ACI Africa, “In a beautiful display of solidarity, Fr Edegard’s parishioners in Pemba have been daily feeding more than 300 families, newly arrived from Palma.”

Images shared by the SACBC institute show Muidumbe IDPs preparing a meal for new arrivals from Palma on Easter Sunday. Muidumbe is a district in Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique that has also experienced insurgency.