Mozambique: in wake of attack, Carmelite sister testifies to ‘barbarism’ of jihadists

AT THE END OF MAY terrorist groups launched an attack on the town of Macomia, in the province of Cabo Delgado, in northeast Mozambique, an area rich in oil and natural gas. The Teresian Carmelite Sisters of Saint Joseph have been present in Macomia for 16 years now and do important work in the field of education. Having fled earlier, they returned a few days after the attack. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) captured testimony of their experiences.

The attack began in the early morning May 28, 2020. “It was fierce, cruel and lasted three days,” reported Sister Blanca Nubia Castaño of the Carmel in Macomia on her Facebook page. She and the other sisters, who were aware of the danger they were in, had abandoned their central mission station, which includes a school and boarding house, just a few days before the attack.

“For the past two and a half years,” Sister Blanca writes, the Macomia region and indeed the whole of the province of Cabo Delgado, have been terrorized by the attacks 0f  jihadist groups, whose motives, according to some experts, may have something to do with the discovery of rich submarine deposits of natural gas, just off the coast of the province. The operations of the terrorists have intensified since the beginning of this year, and they are sowing terror among the population, burning towns and villages and attacking civilians on the roads or those travelling by public transport.

On June 4, the sisters decided to return to Macomia to assess the extent of the damage done by the terrorists, “even though the danger had by no means receded.” But they were hoping, “at the very least to be able to visit (our) employees and their families and help them and give them new courage.”

Destruction in Mozambique

According to Sister Blanca Nubia Castaño, the destruction was immense. “As a result of this barbarism, the town center was completely destroyed, the majority of the administrative infrastructure was damaged and the commercial and shopping center was reduced to ashes.”

Quite apart from the material destruction, what is still unknown is the number of human lives lost. “We still don’t know the number of civilian victims or those of the security forces. On June 3, people slowly began to return to their homes, some of which had been burned, while others had been looted… You may remember that it was only a year ago that we suffered the destructive force of Cyclone Kenneth.” This was the tropical cyclone that particularly affected the province of Cabo Delgado, causing widespread destruction.

Fortunately for the Teresian Carmelite Sisters, their mission of Saint Joseph was spared during the attack, seemingly only because it was situated somewhat apart from the area attacked by the terrorists. “Our mission was saved because it is situated in the hills, close to a military base,” writes Sister Blanca For their own security, however, the sisters had to leave and return to the mission where they had taken refuge—it was still not safe for them to stay in Macomia.

Since the end of 2017, violence in the region has claimed the more than 1100 lives, including 700 civilian victims, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). The violence has also caused the displacement of some 200,000 people since the end of 2017, according to UN data. According to the same sources, this new attack on the town of Macomia, which was already sheltering some 30,000 refugees, has triggered another exodus.

During his Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi message, Pope Francis himself mentioned the little-known crisis, bringing it to the world’s attention.

—Paulo Aido & Chris Lafontaine