​Bishop: Mozambique’s persecuted Christians living an ‘experience of the cross’

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Catholic News Agency


Bishop: Mozambique’s persecuted Christians living an ‘experience of the cross’ 

Catholics living in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province have lived an “experience of the cross” amid the escalation of terrorist violence over the past three years, according to their former bishop.

An Islamic militant insurgency has launched hundreds of attacks in the northern province, killing more than 2,000 people since October 2017. Violence peaked in 2020 with beheadings, kidnappings, and attacks on churches.

Brazilian Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa served as a missionary in Mozambique for nearly 20 years with six and a half years as the bishop of the Pemba diocese in Cabo Delgado. He was recently appointed to lead a diocese in Brazil after living through three years of war in his diocese.

“It was an extremely searing experience, an experience of the cross, an experience of suffering,” Lisboa said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need published on Feb. 25.

“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,” he said, according to a Catholic News Agency report.

“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.”

Nearly 670,000 people have been internally displaced by the violence and 1.3 million in Mozambique are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to a United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report this month.

“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,” the bishop said.

“So now I believe that this experience of the people of Cabo Delgado will stay with me for ever.”

Earlier this month, Pope Francis appointed Lisboa to serve as bishop of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim in the Southeast Region of his native Brazil.

The Holy See press office said on Feb. 11 that Pope Francis had given the 65-year-old bishop, who belongs to the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ (Passionists), the title of “Archbishop ad personam.”

When asked about his transfer, Pemba replied: “The mission is of God, it is not ours. We are simply the instruments of God. Within the Church, one of the characteristics of the missionary, and especially of the religious — for I myself am also a religious — is itinerancy.”

“We are never fixed in one place, but are transferred wherever the Church needs us, wherever God sends us, which 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.”

Pope Francis called Lisboa in August 2020 after militants linked to the Islamic State seized control of the port city of Mocimboa da Praia. Since then there have been reports that the militants beheaded more than 50 people while carrying out executions in a soccer field in November in the province.

During Holy Week in 2020, insurgents perpetrated attacks on seven towns and villages in Cabo Delgado province, burning down a church on Good Friday, and killing 52 young people who refused to join the terrorist group.

According to Pemba diocese, at least five or six local chapels, as well as some mosques, were burned by the Islamic extremists in 2020, including the historic Sacred Heart of Jesus mission in Nangolo.

The Vatican has yet to announce who will replace Lisboa as the next bishop of Pemba. Pope Francis has appointed Bishop António Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo, auxiliary bishop of Maputo, as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

“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,” Lisboa noted.

“Africa will always be a part of me,” he said. “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.”