MOZAMBIQUE: Nun murdered during deadly attack on church

With image of a burnt car from the terrorists’ attack (© Aid to the Church in Need)
With image of a burnt car from the terrorists’ attack (© Aid to the Church in Need)

Terrorists in Mozambique shot dead an 83-year-old nun during an attack on a Catholic mission on Tuesday (6th September).

Bishop Alberto Vera of Nacala, the diocese in which Sister Maria de Coppi was killed, spoke to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) by telephone shortly after the assault, which also saw the mission church, school, and health centre gutted.

He said: “They destroyed everything.”

Bishop Vera went on to say: “The attackers broke open the tabernacle and vandalised part of the sacristy, looking for whatever they could find – probably money.”

He added: “This is a major coup for them because there were foreign religious here… They are seeking some kind of international publicity. I don’t think it was directed against the Church. What they did was an act of terror.”

Sister Maria, an Italian Comboni religious Sister who had been ministering in Mozambique for 59 years, died immediately after being shot during the attack on Chipene, which began at 9pm and lasted until 2am.

The terrorists also destroyed and burned the library, the boys’ and girls’ boarding schools, the mission’s vehicles, and the priests’ and nuns’ houses.

Local missionaries told ACN that the terrorists came to the nuns’ house and forced them to leave but Sister Marie returned as she was concerned about those who had been left behind, and was then killed.

A missionary from Pemba, who asked to remain anonymous, told ACN: “Since July this year it appears that the ‘Islamic State’ has taken control of the group. There were some indications of this before, but it was not altogether clear.

“For us the situation is more sensitive than it was last year because now the Christians are beginning to be targeted and the war is taking on a more religious dimension.

“But, although we don’t know to what extent they are linked to the Islamic state, it looks as though there are going to be fewer options for resolving the problem.”

The missionary added: “There will be no chance of dialogue with them, especially if they are assimilated by the Islamic State”.   

At the time of the attack, there were at least three Sisters in Chipene, two Italian and one Spanish, as well as two Italian priests.

The dangerous situation meant that the 35 boys and 45 girls living in the boarding schools had been evacuated. Twelve girls are still at the mission.

Ulrich Kny, ACN’s project manager for Mozambique, said: “[W]e see that the religious component is becoming more and more important to terrorists.”