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Cabo Delgado Not Yet Safe for Missionaries, Mozambican Catholic Bishop Says

Church attacked by jihadists in Mocimboa da Praia, Mozambique, in June 2020. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need International

Catholic Priests and Religious Sisters who have been displaced alongside other people in the embattled Cabo Delgado Province in Mozambique are not yet ready to go back to their missions in the region that still experiences militant attacks.

In a report the leadership of the Catholic peace and charity foundation, Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), shared with ACI Africa, the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Pemba, Bishop António Juliasse says that the conditions have not yet been created for Missionaries to return to their original missions in the Mozambican Province.

“The issue of security is still precarious,” Bishop Juliasse says in the Monday, September 20 report, and adds, “The first thing we really have to ensure is that the people can return safely and resume their lives in safety… But I think we still need time.”

The Mozambican Catholic Bishop continues, “As long as the people return, then we will also consider the possibility of the missionaries returning there. But for us, the thermometer will be to understand effectively on the ground that there is security.”

In a situation update at a DHPI event in July, the Director of Mozambican Episcopal Conference Commission for Migrants, Refugees and Displaced Persons (CEMIRDE), Sr. Marines Biasibetti, said that that approximately 900,000 people have been displaced within Cabo Delgado and in the surrounding Provinces such as Niassa, Zambézia and Nampula.

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It was noted that 50 percent of the displaced people are children.

“Every day there are new attacks with localized outbreaks, forcing people to abandon everything to seek refuge elsewhere,” Sr. Marines said, and added that the most affected districts are Palma, Mocímboa da Praia, Quissanga, Macomia and Muedumbe, among others.

The Catholic Nun said that about 20,000 IDPs have found refuge in the Catholic Diocese of Nacala within the Province of Nampula.

In the September 20 DHPI report, Bishop António Juliasse acknowledges the efforts of the joint military offensives that he says were yielding some fruits and recovering parts of the Province that had been taken by insurgents.

The Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese that is located within Cabo Delgado however notes that a lot still needs to be done to reassure civilians that the region is now safe for them to return to their respective homes.

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“There is an advance by the military of this joint force of the Rwandans and also accompanied by the Mozambican defense and security force; there is an advance in terms of penetrating the areas that were the only domain of the insurgents, but there is still no guarantee of security, that really those areas are safe,” the Bishop says.

He adds that the Church in the Southern African country is working closely with various agencies of the United Nations in the region to provide humanitarian support especially in the protection of minors. 

According to the Mozambican Bishop, the Catholic Church is also very involved in psychosocial support for the displaced. The Church, he says, has prioritized provision of food and medicine as well as farm inputs so that populations can produce their own food. 

“The agricultural production campaigns will soon start with the rains, especially the production of maize, cassava and other products that are most consumed. There is a need to ensure that families have the means and that means having a hoe, axes, everything that is necessary to work the field,” the Mozambican Bishop says.

Making reference to the reported destruction of a Church in Mocímboa da Praia, a port town in Cabo Delgado, the Catholic Bishop says, “The destruction came from above, from helicopter bombings. Both in Muidumbe and in Mocímboa da Praia. The question is the same: who destroyed the Church?”

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“If I was sure that the destruction was done by the insurgents, our feelings would be one. But if we don't know, then our feelings are different. And there is still a doubt to try to resolve. It remains,” Bishop Juliasse says.

He recalls that in the attack on the village of Palma, insurgents never touched the church as was witnessed in Mocímboa da Praia.

“In the village of Palma, when they (the insurgents) entered, the church was intact. They did not touch the church, nor did they enter it, including the Priests' house. The insurgents didn’t touch anything,” Bishop Juliasse says, and adds, “We still had people there who witnessed it. We’re in this doubt about who is vandalizing things, including the property of the Catholic Church.” 

Meanwhile, officials of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) that are monitoring the evolution of violence have reported the fears of insurgent attacks in Tete Province by a suspected new group of insurgents.

“Tete Province feels threatened by the appearance of a new group of insurgents who have structured themselves in a similar way to those who, over the past three years, have operated in Cabo Delgado Province,” DHPI officials report.

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They explain that while insurgents in Cabo Delgado had their District capital in Mocimboa da Praia, the new ones have Angónia as their capital.

Additionally, those from Cabo Delgado Province threatened neighboring Tanzania while the new insurgent group is threatening neighboring Malawi and Zambia.

“In fact, the recruitment of new insurgents (still without a concrete name) was done in several other districts around Angónia,” DHPI leadership reports, and adds, “It is not known when this group from Tete was formed, but it invokes the Holy Bible as its source of inspiration.”