A Catholic bishop has deplored the world’s indifference to escalating extremist violence in northern Mozambique, where multiple churches have been burnt, people beheaded, young girls kidnapped, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the violence.
Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Mozambique’s Pemba diocese has been an outspoken advocate for the needs of the more than 200,000 people who have been displaced by the violent insurgency.
In June there were reports that insurgents had beheaded 15 people in a week. Yet the bishop said that the crisis in Mozambique has largely been met with “indifference” from the rest of the world.
“The world has no idea yet what is happening because of indifference,” Bishop Lisboa said in an interview with Portuguese media June 21.
“We do not yet have the solidarity that there should be," he told LUSA news agency.
During Holy Week this year 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, the bishop told Aid to the Church in Need.
The bishop noted in April that extremists had already burned five or six local chapels, as well as some mosques. He said that the historic Sacred Heart of Jesus mission in Nangolo was also attacked this year.
“They attacked the church and burnt the benches and a statue of Our Lady, made of ebony. They also destroyed an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to whom the parish is dedicated. Fortunately, they were unable to burn the building itself, only the benches,” Lisboa said.
The bishop said at the time that the increased attacks, frequently targeting the Church, were “an injustice that is crying out to heaven.”
Paulo Rangel, a Portuguese Member of the European Parliament who has been advocating for European support of the region, said July 23: “The international community is nowhere to be seen in regard to the problem.”
“The people were already living in extreme poverty, facing grave difficulties,” Rangel told Aid to the Church in Need. “The problem is that at the present moment these people are facing the threat of death, of losing their homes, of becoming uprooted.”
More than 1,000 people have been killed in attacks in northern Mozambique since 2017, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Some of these attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State, while others have been carried out by the homegrown Ahlu Sunna Wal extremist militant group, which has been kidnapping men and women.
“At present we know that there are young girls who have been abducted and enslaved, forced into sexual slavery by some of these guerrillas, these insurgents, these terrorists,” Rangel said.
“We know that the recruitment of boys and adolescents, some of them very young, aged 14, 15, 16, is also happening. It is obvious that these young boys are under coercion. If they refuse to join the group, they could be killed,” he added.
Rangel, the parliamentary deputy and vice president of the Christian Democrat Party, had high praise for the Bishop of Pemba for his efforts to raise awareness and appeal for the needs of the Cabo Delgado region, calling Lisboa a “great apostle of this cause.”
“We try to be the voice of the voiceless by telling the world what is happening in Cabo Delgado,” Lisboa told Vatican News on July 8.
“The Church has been working with families in the villages to support the people who are suffering the attacks, especially those who have lost everything,” he said.
Pope Francis addressed the suffering in the Cabo Delgado region in his Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi message, asking for prayer for “people who are going through serious humanitarian crises, such as in the Cabo Delgado region, in northern Mozambique.”
During his visit to Mozambique last September Pope Francis urged Church leaders in the country to seek solutions through dialogue, rather than conflict.
“The Church in Mozambique is invited to be the Church of the Visitation,” Pope Francis said in the capital, Maputo, Sept. 5.
The Church in Mozambique, he continued, “cannot be part of the problem of rivalry, disrespect and division that pits some against others, but instead a door to solutions, a space where respect, interchange and dialogue are possible.”