In northern Mozambique, ‘they are shooting everywhere’

“WE ARE RUNNING, FLEEING, TRYING TO HIDE HERE ON THE SHORE. They are shooting everywhere. May it be as God wills, here in Palma.” These are the words of a man from the town of Palma in the far north of Mozambique. He recorded this message in mid-afternoon on March 24, in the middle of an attack on the city by Islamists. In the video recording, which was sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), one can see the man running, saying that “the houses have been abandoned.”

These events are being followed with great concern from further south in Pemba, the capital of the province of Cabo Delgado. Many priests and religious have now gathered there also; they were forced to abandon their parishes and missions by the attacks, which have been ravaging this region since 2017.

Father Edegard Silva—a Brazilian missionary based in Pemba, whose own parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in the Muidumbe district, was the scene of one of the most violent terrorist attacks last year—explained that the latest attack had been expected. “They were already expecting it, because over the past two weeks these evildoers and insurgents had been carrying out a series of attacks in the Nangade region, and almost all the communities close to Palma had already been attacked.”

In a message to ACN, Father Edegard confirmed that the population of Palma has fled. “Many of the families of our catechists in Palma have been in touch with us to tell us that they have fled. When these attacks take place, the people flee into the mountains, and so it is difficult to communicate with them on account of the weak phone signal and the fact that the batteries on their mobile phones have run out,” he explained.

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The missionary went on to explain that the town of Palma is at the heart of the region “where the multinational petroleum company Total is completing its major exploration of offshore gas fields” and many observers suggest that control of the gas fields is one of the principal reasons for the “insurgency,” as the violence is usually referred to locally.

Ever since October 2017, Cabo Delgado province has been the target of attacks by armed groups, linked to ISIS, a situation that has plunged the entire region into a major humanitarian crisis. According to UN figures, by the end of last year there were already more than 670,000 refugees and internally displaced; more than 2,000 people have been killed.

Ever since the beginning of the crisis, ACN has been supporting the efforts of the local Church to help the people affected, and it has already provided emergency aid amounting to close to $200,000. At the same time the organization is providing subsistence aid for the priests and religious who are ministering to this population, as well as supporting the training of seminarians and religious, as well as sponsoring a range of other projects to supply the most pressing needs for the life of the Church, not only in the Diocese of Pemba but in the whole of Mozambique.

“We trust that Jesus will put an end to the sufferings of our province of Cabo Delgado, so that this war that no one understands and tramples on everyone, ends as soon as possible,” said Auxiliary Bishop António Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo of Maputo and Apostolic Administrator of Pemba, capital of the province, in his homily on Palm Sunday.

—Paula Aido