In Mozambique, ‘an experience of the cross’
THE LAST FEW YEARS SPENT IN THE DIOCESE OF PEMBA, in northern Mozambique—years marked by war and bloodshed and by constant terrorist attacks in the province of Cabo Delgado—will never be forgotten by Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the bishop, whom Pope Francis has transferred to a diocese in the state of Espírito Santo, in his native Brazil, looks back on his time in Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world.
He said: “My time in the Diocese of Pemba was a great apprenticeship for me. I had always wanted to work in Africa as a missionary, and God granted me this grace. And in the end, I spent almost 20 years there.” Six and a half of those years were as a bishop. Overall, the balance has been positive. Speaking by telephone from Brazil, where he has been entrusted with leadership of the Diocese of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, Bishop Lisboa insists: “Africa will always be a part of me. When we change our location, change our dwelling, we have to start learning again, to begin anew; we have to respect the people, the culture, the languages, the way of life—and all these things enrich us. I am quite sure that I have received much more than I have given.”
The last three years have been especially harrowing, because the province of Cabo Delgado has suffered a succession of terrorist attacks which have only increased in intensity, especially in 2020. Three years of war can be summed up in one brutal statistic: more than 2,000 dead and more than 600,000 people displaced. “It was an extremely searing experience, an experience of the cross, an experience of suffering,” said Bishop Lisboa. Yet, all this suffering also enabled him to discover the generosity of his people.
“This war has helped me to learn many lessons. The most important of them is the greatness of these people, who are poor, but have a sense of profound solidarity. When I was there, I witnessed many things, I heard many personal stories and saw many different situations and I realized just how much, even in poverty, we can help, we can share. During this time of war every family which wasn’t forced to flee took in one or two, or even three refugee families into their home, on the back porch, and shared the little they had with those who had nothing at all and had been wandering, desperate and directionless. I believe that this experience of the people of Cabo Delgado will stay with me forever.”
For the past several months, with the escalation in the terrorist violence within the territory of Cabo Delgado, Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa has become the voice of his suffering people, attempting to alert the whole world to this war in Mozambique. The recent announcement that Pope Francis had decided to transfer him to Brazil was met with great surprise in Pemba. However, the bishop himself has accepted the Pope’s decision with serenity. He said: “It is God’s mission, not ours. We are simply the instruments of God. Within the Church, one of the characteristics of the missionary, and especially of the religious, is itinerancy. We are never fixed in one place, but are transferred wherever the Church needs us, wherever God sends us. “That is why we must always be ready to dismantle our tent and set it up again elsewhere. And at this time Pope Francis has considered it better that I should go and work in another place. I accept and I thank him for all the support that he has given us, for all the commitment he has shown and all the concern he has felt and continues to feel for Cabo Delgado, because in addition to praying for them, he wishes to go on helping this people.”
Speaking of the International aid received, Bishop Lisboa singled out the support that the diocese of Pemba has received from ACN for many years, but especially in recent times. He said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank ACN for all the years of collaboration and all the help you have given our diocese. Thanks to ACN and its co-workers, we have been given cars for our missionaries, help for the formation of our priests and seminarians, for spiritual retreats, basic support for our women religious and—during this time of war – help to feed the displaced populations and projects for supplying agricultural tools and equipment for the refugees, plus various other projects still in progress! During this time of war ,ACN has helped us greatly with a number of projects that have enabled our missionary personnel to work and bring relief to the victims of this war.”