Local Ministries

Religious order flees mission because of terrorist attacks

Displaced children gather in a camp in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province in this 2019 photo. Residents in northern Mozambique, a region rich in natural gas deposits, have been grappling with an Islamist insurgency since 2017. (CNS photo/Alessandro Grassani, courtesy AVSI)

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — In many places around the world, spreading the Gospel is still a dangerous business.

Local members of the Sisters of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ were reminded of this when they recently received an urgent appeal for help from their order’s Mozambique mission, following terrorist attacks.

Insurgents of the group al-Shabaab, affiliated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, began attacking villages surrounding the Mazeze mission in northern Mozambique on June 10. The terrorists killed several people (some by beheading) and burned, looted and kidnapped others. Some villagers fled into the nearby forest.

The friars and Sisters, warned that the terrorists would be coming to the mission to kill them, fled on June 12. Although their house was not destroyed, they’ve been told it is too dangerous for them to return.

Mozambique is located on the eastern side of Africa roughly between South Africa and Tanzania, and across from the island nation of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

This is the second time the jihadists have forced missionaries of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ to flee. The fraternity, with male and female branches, is a public association of the faithful founded in Brazil but with missions in the United States and Africa.

The fraternity’s first mission in Mozambique was founded on April 6, 2018, at Nangade, located near the border with Tanzania, in northern Cabo Delgado province, explained Sister Magdalena, founder and member of the local branch of the fraternity. Another mission, located in Tete in northwest Mozambique, is so far untouched.

The Nangade mission served two parishes that encompassed a total of 63 villages, she explained.

“The priest there had to travel a lot for Masses, baptisms and confessions, doing all the things that a priest does,” said Sister Magdalena. “Sometimes, Father Boaventura would be hours hearing confessions at one place.”

In addition to their spiritual work, the missionaries worked to improve the health care, education and development projects in Nangade.

“With our special funds account from donations received from people here [in Kansas] as well as people in Brazil, we built the church and a little school for poor children,” said Sister Magdalena. “We made a small clinic for malnourished children and visited all these little villages.

“[The missionaries] said the biggest challenge they found among the people at Nangade was illiteracy. There were many children who had no way to get schooling. They treated malnourished children and adults as best they could and helped families in extreme poverty as best they could.”

The area was peaceful when the Nangade mission was established, but soon the attacks came closer and closer. Then, in August 2020, it was Nangade’s turn to be terrorized. The fraternity missionaries fled with almost nothing.

“They survived the attacks because people from the neighboring villages began to approach to warn us and we had time to get some basic things and leave by the alternative routes,” said Father Israel do Amor Crucificado, PJC, based in Kansas City, Kansas.

“The attacks are usually very violent with the burning of houses, killing of people, kidnapping of women,” he said. “Also, they make proposals for young people to join the group.”

With the help of a bishop, the fraternity missionaries relocated to Mazeze, about 254 miles south of Nangade.

The Mazeze mission, founded in late 2020, had two parishes with a combined 30 villages. The missionaries began to establish their ministries as they had at Nangade until this latest attack. The missionaries found refuge in Mecufi, a coastal city in southeast Cabo Delgado province.

“They are [now] in a temporary house in the expectation that in the future we will be able to restart our mission in another place where we can give continuity to our work,” said Father Israel. “Currently, [the missionaries] are four friars and four Sisters.”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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