NAIROBI, Kenya — Catholic bishops in Mozambique expressed their concern over the deteriorating situation in the country’s northern province of Cabo Delgado, a region rich in natural gas at the center of an insurgency from extremists based in other countries.
The bishops, who met in a mid-November plenary in Maputo, capital of Mozambique, said 1,000 people had died and hundreds of thousands were displaced by the insurgency.
They assured residents of Cabo Delgado “of our constant prayer in the hope of finding paths of dialogue that will facilitate the end of the terrible conflict and the humanitarian drama.”
The Diocese of Pemba in Cabo Delgado has constantly appealed for aid for the suffering Mozambicans, many of whom have been displaced by the fighting or have fled the area. Some have fled to neighboring Tanzania.
As of Nov. 15, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 355,000 people had been displaced within Cabo Delgado and neighboring provinces since October 2017, when an insurgent group, Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama, known for crude beheadings, began attacks. The U.N. said most of those displaced were women and children, and added: “Armed groups are increasingly kidnapping women and children during attacks, with reported cases of forced marriages as well as reports of extreme brutality unleashed on civilians.”
In 2019, Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama declared allegiance to Islamic State militants, and attacks have increased since then.
On Nov. 9, the National Forum of Community Radios reported that nine journalists from the newsroom of St. Francis of Assisi Community Radio in Pemba Diocese had been found safely after being forced to survive for 15 days in the woods. They were forced to flee during a raid by insurgents.
In their statement, the bishops stressed the importance of education at all levels to increase social development, as well as the urgency of recovering the historical memory of Mozambique in order to achieve a true path of national reconciliation.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to work to get out of the current crises,” they said.
In mid-August, Pope Francis called Bishop Luiz Lisboa of Pemba to offer encouragement and consolation amid the increasing violence, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of a cholera outbreak, natural disasters and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.
The bishop said he told the pope about Sister Maria Inez Leite Ramos and Sister Eliane Costa Santana, both originally from Brazil, who were reported missing Aug. 11 after rebels captured the port town of Mocímboa da Praia. The sisters were released Sept. 6.