Two religious sisters belonging to the congregation of Saint Joseph of Chambéry have been returned to safety in northern Mozambique after missing for 24 days, as stated in a press release by the Bishop of Pemba, Msgr Luiz Fernando Lisboa. Sixty individuals remain missing.
According to Father Kwiriwi Fonseca, of the diocese of Pemba in an early September exchange with Aid to the Church in Need, the Brazilian sisters, Inês Ramos and Eliane da Costa, were taken during a violent attack by rebel jihadist groups on the port of Mocímboa da Praia in early August of this year, along with sixty other individuals present at the time of the attack. Father Fonseca explained that the region around Mocímboa da Praia is to all intents cut off and that “nobody can travel there.” He recalled that the attack “began on August 5” and was followed by several continuous days of fighting, “up to the 11th.” “During this time the rebels attacked and occupied the port city of Mocímboa da Praia.”
In a brief conversation with Aid to the Church in Need on September 7, Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa confirmed the other sixty individuals were still missing.
Attacks on Mocímboa da Praia
It was during this attack that contact was lost with the two religious, Sister Inés Ramos and Sister Eliane da Costa. “They are Brazilian and one of them (Sister Inés) is over 70 years old,” Father Kwiriwi explained to ACN.
“When the town was occupied, there was no phone signal and so we were unable to make contact with the Sisters, and we thought they might have lost their mobile phones… So, we are trying to look on the bright side…” he continued that they had found comfort in these positive thoughts even though they did not yet have the official version of events or any kind of notification.
The diocese of Pemba was informed of the attack on the convent in a phone call from another member of the community. “It was he who told us that the Sisters’ convent had been attacked.” Their silence since then made them question if the Sisters had lost their phones and are perhaps hiding out somewhere.
At the time of the jihadist attack, “around 60 people” were in the convent. Most are elderly along with a few children. Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa told ACN “some of them managed to escape and left Mocimboa and others are still there.” The Bishop also asks for “our prayers for those who are still missing.”
A Humanitarian Crisis in Northern Mozambique
crisis afflicting the province of Cabo Delgado in the far north of Mozambique was
brought on by terrorist attacks, the scourge of this region. The crisis has
become grave in terms of the number of people killed and made homeless. To add
to an already deadly and dark situation, there is a total lack of resources to
support the affected population.
Father Cantífula de Castro, the assistant director of Radio Encontro, the radio station of the archdiocese of Nampula, in the neighbouring province, sent a message to the ACN Portugal recounting what he is seeing “in the archdiocese of Nampula around 5,000 refugees have arrived in the districts around Meconta, Nampula and Rapale. Most of them are young women and children in need of humanitarian aid. They have no housing, food or clothing, including any protection against Covid-19.”
In a video message sent to ACN by Father Cantífula de Castro, “the province of Cabo Delgado has been embroiled in war for the past three years. The people are going through unbearable suffering on account of the terrorism. It is a deplorable situation. It is estimated that there have been a little over 1,000 deaths, with houses burned, villages abandoned, people reduced to living in the hills and others fleeing with absolutely nothing and seeking protection in places of relative safety.”
Since October 2017, the province of Cabo Delgado has been a theatre of violent attacks with armed insurgents who some months ago openly declared allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, as it is also known. The attacks have been growing in intensity over the last few months, particularly since early 2020.
Father Cantífula de Castro insisted nonetheless, despite the complexity of the situation and a lack of resources, “the Church is not abandoning these people, but remaining by their side, giving them whatever material aid and spiritual support it can.”
He followed his remarks with an appeal to the international community: “Please do not forget us. If you can, please help these people who have lost everything and been forced to flee from their homes! Many thanks!”
In the statement released to the press in Portuguese, Bishop Luiz also thanks “from the heart” all the people who “accompany us in our tribulations with prayers and solidarity.” “This comforts us and shows the face of a merciful God.” The Bishop thanks God for the return of the Sisters and ask for “the gift of true peace, which we so need in Mozambique and Cabo Delgado.”
The international Catholic pastoral and pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) is continuing to help the people of Mozambique through a raft of projects, ranging from rebuilding of churches to the support of priests and missionaries.