Panicking people in northern Mozambique are living in constant fear of fresh attacks from extremists – according to a priest based in the region.
Father Kwiriwi Fonseca told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that an isolated gunshot or loud noise can cause a major scare in Pemba, the capital city of Cabo Delgado province.
He said: “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.”
Father Fonseca said alarms have been sparked by gunfire from military training exercises by soldiers stationed in the city. Pemba is the base for government security forces battling Islamist insurgents in the region.
According to UN estimates, upwards of 700,000 people have been displaced and more than 2,600 killed since attacks began in October 2017.
Father Fonseca said: “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.”
He added that, to help residents overcome their anxiety, “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.”
Rumours have fuelled the panics in Pemba. Father Fonseca said: “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 rumours.”
Speaking about ministering in such a tense situation, Father Fonseca said that 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…
“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.”
Father Fonseca asked ACN’s benefactors to pray for them, before thanking the charity for its help in the Diocese of Pemba and throughout Mozambique.
He said: “We want to thank…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.”