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Terrorism in Mozambique – Church wants to be part of the solution, says bishop

In the wake of the murder of an Italian nun, the bishop of Pemba, where the Islamist insurgency began, says that poverty and corruption are at the root of the problem. (Cover photo: Internally Displaced People in the north of Mozambique).

In an interview with Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which took place in Lisbon, Portugal, Bishop António Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo, of the Mozambican Diocese of Pemba, said that the Church is doing what it can to handle the effects of increasing attacks in the North, but that ideally this should be a joint effort, involving different sectors.

“The whole of society has to be involved, and that includes the Church, which can contribute to the promotion of peace and stability for the country. We do what we can to spread love and peace to everyone, and we have been having meetings with other religious leaders, Christians and Muslims. We have not yet been officially approached for cooperation, but we have much to contribute. The Church has experience in this field that could be very useful,” said Bishop António.

Fighting poverty first

Until now, the government’s response to the violence, which has caused close to 4,000 deaths, has been focused on military forces, but the bishop believes this is not sufficient.

“As we, bishops, and other members of civil society have been saying, a military solution is not the only one, because most of these young terrorists are local boys. Some might come from abroad, but most of them are Mozambican. They come from the villages; they know the terrain. This makes it easy for them to hide. They watch the armed forces and only attack when they are far away,” the bishop elaborated.

Internally Displaced People in Mozambique. Almost one million now…

The Diocese of Pemba covers most of Cabo Delgado. The northernmost province of Mozambique has been the most badly hit by the violence that began in 2017, but the recent attack in the neighbouring province of Nampula proves that the insurgency is spreading south.

The Islamic State is showing more and more signs of its presence in Mozambique.

The fight against terrorism, said Bishop António, should begin by trying to solve rampant poverty and corruption. “We are surrounded by poverty and corruption. The scarce opportunities there tend to go to a privileged few, who are closer to the decision-making centres. The youth feel this injustice and they rise up against it.”

A life sacrificed for Mozambique

The latest major attack by the Islamic terrorists, who authorities fear may have been infiltrated by the Islamic State, was aimed at the Catholic mission of Chipene. The entire mission was destroyed. Most of the students from the boarding school were away at the time, but in an attempt to ensure no students remained, an 83-year-old Italian nun was shot in the head and killed.

Bishop António told ACN that Comboni religious sister Maria de Coppi is regarded as a martyr, for a lifetime of dedication to the people of Mozambique. Fortunately, the rest of the missionaries and young boarders managed to escape safely.

The new outburst of violence in Nampula has caused a wave of internally displaced people, estimated at up to 100,000, which brings the total in the country to close to one million, according to the bishop of Pemba. The needs are overwhelming. “With the current war in Ukraine, many organisations, and even the entire world, have forgotten Cabo Delgado. I want to ask you, please, do not forget us!” he pleads.

Thank you, ACN

The Church has been doing what it can to help, Bishop António explains, but outside assistance is needed. “Charity is part of our mission, part of the Gospel. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who cooperate with ACN, donating money for the benefit of the displaced, the malnourished children who cannot go to school, and of all those who suffered violence and need psychological and social support in Mozambique.”

ACN has been partnering with the local Church in the predominantly Muslim north of Mozambique since the beginning of the insurgency, helping it to provide emergency and pastoral assistance to displaced populations.

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