Pope Francis made an unexpected phone call this week to a bishop in northern Mozambique, where militants linked to the Islamic State have seized control of the port city of Mocimboa da Praia.
“Today … to my surprise and joy I received a call from His Holiness Pope Francis who comforted me greatly. He said that he … is following events in our province with great concern and that he has been praying for us. He also said to me that if there was anything else that he could do, we should not hesitate to ask him,” Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa wrote on a diocesan webpage.
Lisboa leads the Mozambique diocese of Pemba, located in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, a region that has experienced escalating extremist violence with multiple churches burnt, people beheaded, young girls kidnapped, and more than 200,000 people displaced by violence.
Pope Francis called the bishop on Aug. 19 after the Islamic State declared that it had taken two military bases near Cabo Delgado’s port city Mocimboa da Praia.
“I told him about the difficult situation in Mocimboa da Praia, which has been taken by insurgents, and that there has been no contact with the diocese for a week from two religious sisters from the Congregation of St. Joseph of Chambéry who were working there,” Lisboa said.
The bishop said that the pope was saddened by this news and promised to pray for this intention.
Mozambique’s defence minister said in a press conference on Mocimboa da Praia Aug. 13 that the Islamist militants had “attacked the town from the inside out, causing destruction, looting, and murder of defenceless citizens”.
Government troops have made attempts to recapture the port, which is also the logistics point for a multibillion-dollar natural gas project, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Bishop Lisboa said that Pope Francis encouraged him to contact Cardinal Michael Czerny, the under-secretary of the migrants and refugees section of the Vatican dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, for help with humanitarian assistance.
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.
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, Lisboa 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.
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.
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