Father Kwiriwi Fonseca tells pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need that people are in a constant state of anxiety,
“There is a generalized panic” among the population, and fear of new attacks by terrorist groups, even in Pemba, the capital city of the province of Cabo Delgado, according to Father Kwiriwi Fonseca, a member of the communications team for the diocese of Pemba. He was being interviewed by the Portuguese national office of the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International).
He was speaking about the way the people react whenever they hear shooting, even when this comes from the areas where the government soldiers are quartered and engaged in military training exercises. Father Fonseca believes we must find a way to help the people overcome this sense of constant anxiety. “Whenever they hear the sound of a gunshot, or shooting of any kind from the Army training camps, people immediately start to panic and come running out of their homes… And so the government, the NGOs and the Church are going to have to start talking intensively and constantly about peace and security, because there really is a great deal of fear.”
This is the reality, even in the streets of Pemba, a town which is in effect the main bastion of the government security forces in the entire region. The fear that Father Fonseca is talking about is fed by rumor, which turns every unfamiliar movement, every unusually loud sound, any isolated gunshot, into an imminent attack. “People have to learn that in a situation of war such as we are facing, they have to avoid passing on news if they are not absolutely sure about it. They have to stop spreading false news and avoid falling victim to rumors. This is important,” he insists.
But the worst thing is when the news of attacks is true, as was the case on Thursday 22 April this year. Nearly a month after the attack on Palma, further north, the town at the centre of the megaproject for the exploitation of offshore natural gas, the same town was once again the scene of serious incidents. News of these arrived at the diocese via individuals who were still living in the area. “Ever since the first attack – the most violent one, on 24 March – news has been arriving in fragmentary fashion, but on 22 April four people were murdered and others abducted. The government still hasn’t shown its face, even though several people have confirmed that, yes, there have indeed been attacks.”
Life has changed in this northern region of Mozambique due to this undeclared war by armed groups claiming to belong to IS, the jihadists of Islamic State. It is a war which, since October 2017, has claimed over 2,500 lives and left over 750,000 refugees. The Church is endeavoring to support the people who have been forced to flee and who are now totally dependent on outside support and solidarity. “We have to adapt to this new reality,” Father Fonseca explains.
“Here and now, the watchword is flexibility.” Flexibility, in order to be able to help all those knocking on the door of the Church, seeking help. “Our life has changed. [Being a priest] is a like being one of the emergency services. That’s exactly what it is, it’s a matter of being on call 24 hours a day. We are putting our hearts and souls into this struggle, because at the end of the day we can at least say that we are still alive.”
“On a daily basis, we strive not only to be priests, but also activists, psychologists, spiritual directors, first aiders, suppliers (and distributors) of foodstuffs, Caritas volunteers and diocesan volunteers… These are all the different activities we have to be ready to take on.”
The Mozambican priest continues, “No one was ready for this; it’s a situation that caught us completely unprepared, a situation that has left us deeply moved, because nobody is ever prepared for war, or for Covid-19, or for this terrible misfortune. And so we are still in a state of shock.”
Father Kwiriwi Fonseca is just one of the many faces of the Church in Cabo Delgado, one of the many trying to care for the wounded, help the desperate population, search for the missing and reunite families. When he is asked what are the most important needs, he responds, “Here, we lack everything; but above all, pray for us!”
Right from the start of the crisis, Father Fonseca has been working together with ACN International in its efforts to help the diocese of Pemba and the entire Church in Mozambique. “We want to thank the pontifical foundation ACN International for its support and accompaniment in our lives ever since the first moments of the crisis, here in the diocese of Pemba. We are deeply grateful to the charity for its efforts to always be close to us. Today we know just how much you love us and care for our people. May God bless you, and your mission!”
This article was first published by Aid to the Church in Need and is republished here with kind permission. To learn more about ACN’s mission to help the suffering Church, visit www.churchinneed.org (from the U.S.) and www.acninternational.org (outside of the U.S.).