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Catholic Priest in Mozambique Using Puppets to Help Displaced Children Cope with Loss

Children at the Catholic Diocese of Pemba follow an entertainment with puppets in a psychosocial project aimed at helping them cope with their loss/Credit: Denis Hurley Peace Institute

A Catholic Priest ministering in Mozambique’s Pemba Diocese is using puppets to provide psychosocial support to children who have undergone trauma in the country’s warrying Cabo Delgado region.

Information shared by Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) indicates that hundreds of children are among displaced people currently hosted by the Mozambican Diocese after they fled from Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, where militants continue to wreak havoc against innocent civilians.

Many of the children that Fr. Edegard Silva Junior is looking after are those that have been orphaned from the violence, the leadership of DHPI has told ACI Africa.

“Fr. Edegard Silva Junior is pioneering an innovative strategy to provide psycho-social support to displaced children, many of them orphans, in the reception camp at Metuge, outside Pemba,” DHPI Director Johan Viljoen told ACI Africa Friday, May 7 when he reported about the activities of the charity organization in Pemba and in the Archdiocese of Nampula where other refugees are hosted.

Mr. Viljoen added in reference to the displaced children, “Traumatized by the violence they witnessed, often having seen their parents and siblings being killed, they do not open easily to a counsellor. Fr. Edegard is using puppet shows to engage with them.”

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The DHPI Director said that the puppets provide entertainment, whilst simultaneously facilitating the engagement with the children, and discussing their problems.

“The children willingly open up to the puppets, and to each other, in what amounts to group counselling,” he says.

More than 200 children are participating in the psycho-social program against the 100 that Fr. Silva expected.

Fr. Silva, a Brazilian missionary, fled with some of his parishioners at the Parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Muidumbe district and is currently ministering among his fellow refugees in Pemba, some 200 kilometers away. 

In a reflection shared with ACI Africa last month, Fr. Silva reminisced about the happy life that the people enjoyed before militants invaded their homes in 2017, killing many people, leaving children orphans and sending thousands of innocent civilians into exile.

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He said the Biblical cry of the people of God forced to stay in a strange land has become a common song for the refugees in Pemba, including missionaries.

“We missionaries are also in this exile, trying to understand what God is saying to us,” Fr. Silva said in his reflection, and added, “The medieval prayer of the Salve Rainha expresses our experience, moaning and weeping in this valley of tears.” 

He said that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day, with more people arriving in the Diocese from Cabo Delgado, which is within the Diocese of Pemba.

Meanwhile, the Apostolic Administrator of Pemba Diocese, Bishop António Juliasse has called on Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi to pay more attention to the Cabo Delgado crisis.

“If I were president, my concerns would be different. Cabo Delgado would be high on the agenda. I would be talking about every day,” Bishop António who doubles as the Auxiliary Bishop of Mozambique’s Maputo Archdiocese said in a report last month.

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The Mozambican Bishop added, hinting on what the President ought to do amid the crisis, “I would delegate other functions. To inaugurate a school, I have ministers, vice-ministers, and prime ministers. I would dedicate myself to a cause that really affects national sovereignty. It is necessary to find effective results very urgently and not to minimize a problem like this.”

The original interview in Portuguese was published on 27 April by Observador (Lisbon) but is behind paywall. A free copy has been posted by Macua.blogs.

“If you ask a young person, which way the country is going, there is great dissatisfaction. If you ask them about their future, they find it difficult to say anything about it,” Bishop António laments.

He adds, “In my opinion, clear paths must be shown: in which direction we are going. When you see that a few are benefiting more and more and so many other young people don't have the possibility and don't see these possibilities, they are vulnerable to all sorts of things.”

In the interview, the Bishop was particularly critical of corruption at the helm of the leadership of the country.

“In practice, corruption spreads further and further, reaching the highest spheres. ... This cannot be hidden. Everyone knows it,” he says.

“In several mandates, the presidents of Mozambique have proposed to fight against corruption in a forceful manner. Instead of fighting, things got worse and worse. Everyone understands this; the evil has been diagnosed for a long time. But you don't see an effective fight. Sometimes it is very difficult for the one who is in the problem to fight against himself,” Bishop António says, and poses, “How can a corrupt person fight against himself?”