Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Bishop Luiz Lisboa of Pemba, Mozambique, is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS photo/courtesy Dioces of Pemba)

A papal phone call to Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Pemba, Mozambique, was not just an expression of concern about his diocese, but a sign of support during a defamation campaign launched by Mozambique's president.

Since the beginning of the attacks in the province of Cabo Delgado in 2017, Bishop Lisboa has been one of the few voices calling attention to the violence and its social consequences. More than 1,100 people already died and 250,000 have been displaced in the armed conflict between Muslim insurgents and the army, but the violence remains mostly unknown to the international community.

Bishop Lisboa's denunciations of what he called the "government's lack of transparency" in its campaign apparently displeased Mozambican leaders. On Aug. 15, during a visit to Cabo Delgado, President Felipe Nyusi accused "certain foreigners" of lacking respect for "the sacrifice of the ones who keep this young nation standing," disguising their attitude with the "human rights" agenda.

"That commentary was undoubtedly aimed at Bishop Lisboa. His work has enormous relevance. If it wasn't for him, the world wouldn't know what's happening in Cabo Delgado," said Adriano Nuvunga, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, a nongovernmental organization in Mozambique that promotes democratic values.

The center released a statement Aug. 18 condemning not only the president's verbal attack on Bishop Lisboa, but also the manifestations that followed it on social media, particularly the ones posted by a few journalists who support Nyusi. One of them, Egidio Vaz, accused Bishop Lisboa of being a "logistical supporter" of the terrorists and of giving them supplies.

"I believe the Vatican may be able to get rid of such an embarrassment, but (only) by excommunicating him. He's a criminal. I don't know why the Mozambican state still keeps his residence permit," Vaz said on Facebook to his 31,000 followers.

Pope Francis called the bishop Aug. 19.

The wave of defamation against the bishop rang the alarm on his safety. On social media, many in the African country compared his situation to the case of the French-born lawyer Gilles Cistac, killed in 2015 for suspected political reasons.

Cistac had displeased the ruling party, Frelimo, when he publicly gave a favorable legal opinion on the creation of autonomous provincial administrations, a platform backed by Renamo, the main opposition force in Mozambique. Cistac's murder has not been solved.

"They would never get to the point of killing Bishop Lisboa. He's a member of the Catholic Church," said Nuvunga.

Although the relations between the Mozambican government and the church have always been tense due to the defense of human rights by Catholics, said Nuvunga, the institutional relevance of the church and the great number of organizations that support the bishop make any act of violence against him "unthinkable."

"Bishop Lisboa's only 'fault' was to tell the world about the atrocities in Cabo Delgado. The system -- and particularly the president and a small group around him -- doesn't want anybody to know about it. Their strategy will be to pressure the church to remove him," Nuvunga added.

In almost three years of conflict, the government has done little to help the thousands of displaced people, said Brazilian-born Father Pedrinho Secretti, a Pallottine missionary in the province.

"It's a total omission. Who assumed the role of being the voice of the people, who gives them food, who helps them in all levels is the bishop," he told Catholic News Service.

Father Secretti said most families in the southern regions of Cabo Delgado now give shelter to other families, who came from the war zone.

Bishop Lisboa has made "a huge effort during the pandemic to assist the sick and the neediest ones. The diocese's Caritas has been very active in helping the displaced families," he added.

Dulce Coutinho is one of the victims of the war. She had to flee Mocímboa da Praia, a town recently occupied by the terrorists, and moved to Pemba. She said many of her neighbors were forced to abandon their homes without looking back, leaving even their documents behind.

"People have lived there for centuries and now are being either killed for no reason or obliged to go away. It's an alarming situation, and the bishop is worried about his people. He couldn't be indifferent to all that," she told CNS.

A port town, Mocímboa da Praia is a strategic location near Palma, where a project of natural gas exploitation is being implemented by international corporations. The northernmost zone of Cabo Delgado, where the town is located, is also rich in other mineral resources, like rubies and graphite.

Mocímboa da Praia was captured by the jihadists around Aug. 11, reported DW.com. Father Secretti said two Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery have disappeared since then, and the diocese is still waiting for news on them.

The attacks on Catholic targets have been recently increasing. A few months ago, churches and houses of missionaries were invaded and vandalized. Many lay Catholics in the region were killed. Although Mozambique has a majority of Catholics, in Cabo Delgado they're outnumbered by Muslims.

"The church is following all the events and suffers with the people," said Passionist Father Latifo Fonseca, who directs Pemba's Catholic radio station. He said Bishop Lisboa is being "misunderstood" in his denunciation of the problem.

"But he's calm and knows the consequences of having a prophetic voice. He's doing his role as a pastor and telling the truth to the people," Father Fonseca said.

Regarding the current defamation campaign, Bishop Lisboa told CNS he considers that the target is not him, but the church.

"The church is invited to reveal the truth and to work for justice and peace. But the truth always hurts. The church in Mozambique has been talking for a long time about the importance of social and democratic coexistence," he said.

"What's at stake here is not the persecution of a bishop, but to the most important of the church's values: justice, truth, and peace," he added.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

A Mexican soldier patrols outside the Church in Cerocahui, Mexico, Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
The bishops’ statement followed the slayings of two Jesuits and a person they were protecting in their parish—a crime attributed to a local crime boss in a part of the country dominated by drug cartels.
President Truman's envoy to the Vatican, Myron C. Taylor, left, has an audience with Pope Pius XII at Castelgandolfo near Rome, on Aug. 26, 1947. (AP Photo/Luigi Felici, File)
The documentation, published amid renewed debate about the legacy of the World War II-era pope, contains 2,700 files of requests for Vatican help from Jewish groups and families.
A school bus in front of a building; the building has a yellow banner on it that says “imagine a future free of gun violence.”
One month after Uvalde, we are growing numb to gun violence. Even so, we must resolve to comfort the mourners, to beat guns into plowshares, and to say “never again” and mean it.
Britt LubyJune 24, 2022
A man bows his head in prayer before a computer screen showing nine people doing the same
As pandemic restrictions have eased, most parishioners have returned to in-person Masses. But some would prefer the option for virtual services to remain.
Keara HanlonJune 24, 2022