Cabo Delgado: “Nobody asks for martyrdom, but it’s something that can happen at any moment”, says bishop.

In an exclusive interview with the Portuguese national office of the international Catholic pastoral charity and Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), Bishop Antonio Juliasse, the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Pemba, in the province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, describes the situation his diocese has been going through over the past six months, since he took over from Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa. Among other things he spoke of the urgent need to continue providing humanitarian aid to the population and spoke words of great praise and gratitude for the work already done by ACN International in support of the Church in this diocese in northern Mozambique, which has suffered from attacks by armed rebels ever since 2017.

Bishop Antonio Juliasse, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Pemba

What is your assessment of your first six months in charge of the diocese of Pemba?
A favourable one, on balance, because on the various fronts the diocese is working on I have been able to make some contribution. I arrived one month after the attack on the town of Palma, an event that increased the sense of insecurity throughout the province of Cabo Delgado. That event left us all very shaken. There were many phone calls from the general superiors of the religious congregations, wondering whether it would be advisable or not to withdraw their members from the diocese of Pemba. I believe we got through that time together, and it was good to find a way in the darkness and good that God was with us at that moment, helping us to make a deeper discernment. Good also to discover this deeper perspective of our mission and our Christian commitment, and our response likewise to the dimension of martyrdom – since nobody goes looking for martyrdom, yet it is something that can happen at any moment.

“We may well be at risk, but at the same time we are here on mission, and we are here for Jesus. We have to stay on here.” I was deeply moved to hear responses like these from the missionaries and their superiors. There was also another front to work on, more humanitarian in nature, namely the arrival of the refugees, in regard to which although I was not directly involved in the first wave, I certainly was in the second major wave of refugees from Palma and the other areas that were under attack.

Discovering the deeper perspective of “our mission and our Christian commitment”

Have the recent successes in the struggle against the insurgents made it possible to think of a return by the priests and religious to their original missions?
No, not for the moment. I don’t know for sure if all these areas have been liberated. We are still waiting for proof of this. One of the things is that the president speaks in order to encourage the country, and that is all very well; in order to create a certain sense of hope for the country, which also makes some sense. But in practice, in the actual situation on the ground, there is still a great deal to be done.

So how is the security situation in the region?
Recently, one of our missionary priests, Father Fonseca, was in Mocímboa da Praia and in Palma. In both places the security situation was still very precarious. There has been an advance by part of a joint force of Rwandan soldiers, accompanied by the Mozambican defence and security forces, who have pushed into areas that were formerly controlled entirely by the insurgents. But there is still no guarantee of security, no guarantee that these areas are really safe to return to. Nor are we, as a Church, going to advise anyone to return yet. I believe we still need more time. In the measure that the people themselves return, it will also be possible to assess the possibility of the missionaries returning there. But as far as we are concerned, the indicator will be the knowledge that there really is security on the ground. We can’t expose people who have been through such suffering in crisis and are still traumatised by it, to return to situations of fear and conflict and the risk of being maltreated as they were before. It will take a little more time yet.

There is still no guarantee of security in the province of Cabo Delgado

And what about the psychological support being offered by the Church?
The Church is very involved in this work of psychological support. We have trained teams going into all the places where the refugees are living. We understand that it is not always easy to do, since psychological support of this kind requires rather more dedication and what we call “walking together”, and there are so many people involved. We simply don’t have the physical capacity to accompany everyone at the same time. But wherever we do go, we identify those who most need support and then held in a dedicated manner. At the same time, our psychological and social support also involves the strengthening of the existing family and community networks, so that these networks can also function as a means of healing for their members.

Is it known who was responsible for the destruction of the churches, especially those in Mocímboa da Praia? Was it the terrorists, or the South African mercenaries?
Did the destruction come from above, from the bombs dropped by the helicopters of the DAG (Dyck Advisory Group), a private South African military group that has been helping the Mozambican defence and security forces to fight the insurgency since April 2020? Or was it from those who were there on the ground, occupying the area? Both in Muidumbe and in Mocímboa da Praia the question is the same: Who was responsible?

If we were certain that the destruction was carried out by the insurgents, we would be united in our sentiments, but since we don’t know, our feelings are rather different. This question is so far still unresolved. In Palma, when the insurgents entered, the church was intact. They didn’t touch the church, or enter it, or even the presbytery. The insurgents did not touch anything. There were people there who witnessed this. So we still are in doubt as to who it was vandalised these things, including the property of the Catholic Church.

Church attacked by jihadists in Mocimboa da Praia, Mozambique, in June 2020

The destruction was not so recent, but the pictures of it are. We have to be careful here. For example, the destruction of the mission in Muidumbe is not recent. It happened some time ago, when Bishop Luiz was still here. And likewise in Mocímboa da Praia, nobody had a photo of it. So we can’t say if the destruction was more recent or if it happened during the time when the helicopters of these South African mercenaries were operating in support of the Mozambican defence and security forces. It’s possible that everything happened during that time, bearing in mind that the insurgents might have taken refuge inside, thereby prompting the destruction. It is also possible that the insurgents, being present in Mocímboa da Praia, were the ones to destroy the church, because it didn’t matter to them… This is the doubt that still remains and has not yet been resolved. We have pictures, but these pictures in themselves don’t tell us, they don’t say when the destruction happened or how it happened. We still have to find the answer to this question.

What are the most urgent needs now in the diocese of Pemba?
When we visit the refugee camps, we see all kinds of people – children, adolescents, adults, old people… Every one of them has his or her own story to tell, a difficult story because it is a story of suffering. And every one of them wants us to listen to them and to hear their concerns. And these concerns start with the most basic necessities. There are many things that are urgent. I am not giving priority only to emergency aid, but food and healthcare continue to be an urgent need for this great number of refugees. There has been a lack of basic medicines everywhere. Recently, Father Fonseca was able to go to Palma and he explained to me that there are many people there with health problems.

Food and healthcare continue to be an urgent need for the great number of refugees

I myself visited a refugee camp (resettlement camp) in the district of Palama, where I saw many families stretched out in the darkness of their homes. I went to see them and found that they were ill. I asked them if they had been to the medical aid centre and were taking their medication, and they all told me that they had been, but they didn’t have any medication there. This is also an urgent aspect of our aid programme, because otherwise there could be an outbreak of certain diseases in the refugee camps and then we would have a really serious problem on our hands.

It is also urgent to provide these people with COVID-19 vaccines, since there are so many of them, and when there are distributions in the refugee camps, the people naturally crowd together in order to be able to hear their names called and get hold of the aid on offer.

It is also urgent to give the COVID-19 vaccines to the refugees

As far as food aid is concerned, the people eat one day, and next day they need food again, and so it continues. It’s not something you can give once only; it has to be ongoing, until the families are able to support themselves. The sowing time will start soon, with the rains, especially the maize, yucca, and the other staple food crops. We have to make sure that the families have the necessary means, and this involves having a mattock, an axe, everything they need to work the fields. But at the same time we also have to make sure they have enough land to grow their crops on.

And what about the spiritual dimension?
The other priority for us as a Church is their spiritual support. The psychological support is already ongoing, but we now also have to focus on spiritual support. This is a priority for the Church and requires a pastoral outreach involving the integration of the refugees in the Christian and religious life of the places where they find themselves. There are tensions between the local people and those who have welcomed the refugees. This is also one of the aspects where the Church has a role to play, starting with the local Christian leaders and influencing the local leaders to promote a climate of friendly coexistence between the refugees and those who were already living in the area.

The spiritual support is a priority for the Church
The spiritual support is a priority for the Church

What would you like to say to the benefactors of ACN?
The foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is very important to us, it has been a companion, a close and friendly helping hand, always walking together with the Church in Mozambique and at the present time it continues to walk alongside us from many different places in the world. We have a helping hand that we can always rely on, and ever since I have been here in Cabo Delgado, I have been conscious of the very special interest that ACN has taken in us.

“ACN is very important to us. It has been walking together with the Church in Mozambique,” says Mgr. Juliasse

On behalf of the diocese of Pemba and all the people of Cabo Delgado, I would like to thank you for all the financial aid we have received and all the particular ways you have helped, and also all the help that we have received through what we cannot see, namely your prayers.

I would like to thank all our brothers and sisters in the faith and all those people of goodwill, all who are aware of Cabo Delgado through the work of ACN and who are contributing towards alleviating the suffering of its people. I thank them from the bottom of my heart, and we will continue to give thanks, because I am on the spot and know what this means to us – that we are not alone.

“The problems in Cabo Delgado are still very serious, and there is a great deal of suffering,” says Mgr. Juliasse

Somebody asked me the other day if I felt abandoned, if I felt that Cabo Delgado was a long way away from the rest of the world. I answered that while we may be distant geographically from the countries that are supporting us, we nonetheless feel we are very close, because they are present to us in all that they are sharing with the people here. We look forward to being able to continue feeling this closeness, because the problems here in Cabo Delgado are still very serious, and there is a great deal of suffering.

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Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

La visite du Pape nous remontera le moral, plus que toute autre chose. Tous les yeux de la planète seront dirigés vers Baghdeda. Le monde saura ainsi ce qui est arrivé à cette ville : les terribles destructions et la migration forcée. Ce serait également bien si nous recevions ensuite un peu plus d’aide et de soutien. Cette visite est très importante pour nous qui sommes ici, surtout après l’énorme migration forcée de tant des nôtres. Cette visite signifie que nous ne sommes pas seuls et qu’il y a des gens qui prient pour nous. Cela nous donnera de l’espoir, nous encouragera à rester dans notre pays et à ne pas le quitter.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Si j’ai l’occasion de le rencontrer, je voudrais le remercier pour sa visite qui nous rend très heureux, et pour ses prières. Je tiens également à le remercier pour toute l’aide qu’il nous a procurée ces derniers temps. Je n’oublie pas sa grande solidarité et le geste qu’il a fait en vendant aux enchères la Lamborghini qu’on lui avait donnée pour soutenir avec l’argent récolté la reconstruction de la plaine de Ninive. Je voudrais aussi qu’il continue à prier pour nous afin que la paix arrive en Irak.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

Je voudrais lui montrer l’église historique Al-Tahira et des photos de Baghdeda, je voudrais qu’il voie comment l’État Islamique l’a détruite et comment les gens d’ici ont eu le courage de la reconstruire.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa levantará el ánimo y la moral, más que cualquier otra cosa. Todos los ojos del mundo se dirigirán a Baghdeda. Así, el mundo sabrá lo que le sucedió a esta ciudad. La terrible destrucción y la migración forzada. También sería bueno si luego recibimos más ayuda y apoyo. Esta visita es realmente importante para nosotros, los que estamos aquí, especialmente después de la enorme migración forzada de tantos de los nuestros. La visita significa que no estamos solos y hay quienes rezan por nosotros. Esto nos dará esperanza, nos animará a permanecer en nuestra tierra y no dejarla.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Si tengo la oportunidad de encontrarme con él: quiero agradecerle su visita, que nos hace muy felices, y su oración. También quiero darle las gracias por todo lo que nos ha ayudado durante el último periodo. No me olvido de su gran solidaridad y del gesto de subastar el Lamborghini para apoyar con ese dinero la reconstrucción de la llanura de Nínive. También quiero que siga orando por nosotros para que la paz llegue a Irak.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Quiero mostrarle la histórica iglesia Al-Tahira y fotos de Baghdeda, quiero que vea cómo fue destruida por ISIS y cómo la gente de aquí ha sido tan fuerte para reconstruirla nuevamente.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes wird die Stimmung und die Moral heben, mehr als alles andere. Alle Augen der Welt werden auf Baghdida gerichtet sein. Dann wird die Welt erfahren, was mit dieser Stadt passiert ist, die schreckliche Zerstörung und die erzwungene Migration. Es wäre auch gut, wenn wir anschließend mehr Hilfe und Unterstützung bekommen würden. Dieser Besuch ist wirklich wichtig für uns hier, besonders nach der großen Zwangsmigration so vieler unserer Leute. Der Besuch bedeutet, dass wir nicht allein sind, und dass es Menschen gibt, die für uns beten. Das wird uns Hoffnung geben, es wird uns ermutigen, in unserem Land zu bleiben und es nicht zu verlassen.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Wenn ich die Gelegenheit habe, ihn zu treffen: Ich möchte ihm für seinen Besuch, der uns sehr glücklich macht, und für sein Gebet danken. Ich möchte mich auch bei ihm für alles bedanken, was uns in der letzten Zeit geholfen hat. Ich werde nie seine große Solidarität vergessen sowie die Geste, den Lamborghini zu versteigern (siehe Link zur Meldung), um mit diesem Geld den Wiederaufbau der Ninive-Ebene zu unterstützen. Ich möchte auch, dass er weiterhin für uns betet, damit im Irak Frieden einkehrt.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die historische Al-Tahira-Kirche zeigen und Bilder von Baghdida, ich möchte, dass er sieht, wie alles von ISIS zerstört wurde und welcher Kraft die Menschen hier es wiederaufgebaut haben.

What does the Pope’s visit mean to you?
The papal visit will lift up our spirits and morale more than anything else. All the eyes of the world will be on Baghdeda. And in this way the world will know what happened to this city. The terrible destruction and the forcible ethnic cleansing. It will also be a good thing if afterwards we get more support and help. This visit is really important to us, to those of us who are living here, especially after the massive ethnic cleansing and expulsion of so many of us. His visit means that we are not alone and that there are people who are praying for us. This will give us fresh hope and encourage us to persevere, here on our own soil, and not leave it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
If I get the opportunity to meet him, I would like to be able to thank him for his visit, which has made us very happy, and for his prayers. I would also like to thank him for all he has done to help us in recent times. I have not forgotten his great gesture of solidarity in auctioning the Lamborghini in order to use the money to help pay for the reconstruction of our homes on the Niniveh plains. I would also like to ask him to continue praying for us and for peace to return to Iraq.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? Which places should he visit?
I would like to show him our historic Al-Tahira church, and some photos of Baghdeda. I’d like him to be able to see how it was destroyed by IS and how the people here have worked so hard recently to rebuild it once more.

Qu’est-ce que cette visite signifie pour vous ?

La visite du Pape est ce que nous désirions le plus ici. C’est une grande bénédiction. Nous avons un grand désir de le voir. Ce qui rajoute de l’importance à cette visite, c’est la situation de vulnérabilité que nous, chrétiens, subissons en Irak. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cette fragilité, toutes sont les séquelles de l’État Islamique. Toutes ces destructions ont grandement contribué à l’émigration des chrétiens. De nombreux problèmes pèsent sur nous. Mais par sa visite, le Pape nous donnera de l’espérance et de la confiance, il nous encouragera et réduira notre fardeau. Bien que la situation soit instable en Irak en ce qui concerne la sécurité, tout spécialement dans le domaine politique, on s’attend à ce qu’à l’arrivée du Pape, sa sécurité soit correctement assurée.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Je voudrais lui demander de me donner sa bénédiction, de bénir mon travail et le dévouement des prêtres d’ici, et de bénir le peuple par ses prières. Je voudrais lui demander d’aider tous ceux qui sont en danger dans ce pays, qu’ils soient chrétiens ou musulmans. Qu’il tente de mobiliser les pays du monde entier pour soutenir ce pays qui a besoin d’aide.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais qu’il visite l’église Al-Tahira, parce que c’est un symbole et un élément du patrimoine de Baghdeda. Cette église est la mère, le foyer et le patrimoine de chacun des habitants de Baghdeda. Nos ancêtres ont construit cette église, nous avons tous le sentiment d’en faire partie. Bien sûr, nous serions heureux qu’il visite de nombreux endroits, des églises, monastères et maisons traditionnelles, et qu’il rencontre également beaucoup de gens qui ont le désir de le voir.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa es lo que más hemos deseado aquí. Es una gran bendición. Sentimos un gran anhelo de verlo. Lo que agrega importancia a esta visita son las condiciones tan vulnerables que sufrimos los cristianos en Irak. Hay varios motivos para esa fragilidad, todas las secuelas que ha dejado el ISIS, esa enorme destrucción ha llevado en gran medida a la emigración de cristianos. Muchos problemas pesan sobre nosotros. Pero cuando nos visite, nos dará esperanza, confianza y aliento y reducirá esta carga. Además del hecho de que la situación de seguridad en Irak, especialmente la política, es inestable, se espera que a la llegada del Papa se garantice su seguridad de manera correcta.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Querría pedirle que me dé su bendición, que bendiga mi servicio y la entrega de los sacerdotes aquí y que bendiga al pueblo a través de sus plegarias. Le pido que ayude a todos los que están en peligro en este país, ya sean cristianos o musulmanes. Que intente movilizar a los países del mundo para que apoyen a este país que necesita ayuda.

 ¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda / Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me encantaría que visite la iglesia Al-Tahira, porque es símbolo y patrimonio de Baghdeda. Esta iglesia es madre, hogar y herencia de cada uno de los habitantes de Baghdeda. Nuestros antepasados ​​construyeron esta iglesia, todos nos sentimos parte de ella. Ciertamente, nos alegraría que visitara muchos lugares, iglesias, monasterios y casas tradicionales,  también que vea a muchas personas que anhelan verlo.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes ist das, was wir uns hier am meisten gewünscht haben. Es ist ein großer Segen. Wir spüren eine starke Sehnsucht, ihn zu sehen. Was diesen Besuch noch wichtiger macht, sind die äußerst prekären Bedingungen, unter denen wir Christen im Irak leiden. Es gibt mehrere Gründe für diese Zerbrechlichkeit. All die Folgen, die ISIS hinterlassen hat, diese enorme Zerstörung hat in großem Maße zur Auswanderung von Christen geführt. Viele Probleme lasten auf uns. Aber wenn er uns besucht, wird er uns Hoffnung, Zuversicht und Ermutigung geben und diese Last verringern. Auch wenn die Sicherheitslage im Irak, insbesondere die politische Situation, instabil ist, hoffen wir, dass bei der Ankunft des Papstes seine Sicherheit ausreichend gewährleistet ist.


Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Ich möchte ihn bitten, mir seinen Segen zu geben, meinen Dienst und die Hingabe der Priester hier zu segnen und die Menschen durch seine Gebete zu segnen. Ich bitte ihn, all jenen zu helfen, die in diesem Land in Gefahr sind, ob sie nun Christen oder Muslime sind; und die Länder der Welt zu mobilisieren, um dieses Land, das Hilfe braucht, zu unterstützen.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida / Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte, dass er die Al-Tahira-Kirche besucht, denn sie ist ein Symbol und Erbe von Baghdida. Diese Kirche ist die Mutter, die Heimat und das Vermächtnis eines jeden einzelnen Menschen in Baghdida. Unsere Vorfahren haben diese Kirche erbaut, wir alle fühlen uns als Teil von ihr. Sicherlich würden wir uns freuen, wenn er viele Orte, Kirchen, Klöster und traditionelle Häuser besuchen würde, und auch, wenn er viele Menschen treffen würde, die sich danach sehnen, ihn zu sehen.

What does the visit mean to you?
The papal visit is the thing we have longed for most of all here. It will be a great blessing. We have a great yearning to see him. What gives added importance to this visit is the so very vulnerable situation that we are suffering as Christians in Iraq. There are many reasons for this vulnerability, including the aftermath of what IS left behind, the enormous destruction which has led in such large measure to the emigration of the Christians. There are many problems weighing on us. But when he comes to visit us, he will give us new hope and confidence and some relief from this burden. In addition there is the fact that the security situation in Iraq, and especially the political situation, is so unstable, so we are hoping that when the Pope does arrive they will guarantee his security in the way that they should.


What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
I would like to ask him to give me his blessing, to bless my ministry and the hard work of all the priests here, and also to bless all the people through his prayers. I would ask him to help all those in danger in this country, whether they are Christians or Muslims. And that he might strive to encourage the countries of the world to support this nation, which is truly in need.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places ought he to visit?
I would love him to visit the Al-Tahira church, because it is a symbol and a rich cultural legacy of Baghdeda. This church is the mother, the home and the inheritance of every one of the inhabitants of Baghdeda. Our forefathers built this church, and we all feel we are a part of it. Of course, we would be happy for him to visit many different places – churches, monasteries and traditional homes – and also for him to be able to meet all the many people who are longing to see him.

Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

Elle a une valeur morale, et non pas économique. Cette question occupera l’opinion publique mondiale, et tout spécialement irakienne. J’ai l’impression d’y tenir une place importante.


Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Ce sera formidable de faire sa connaissance, et je voudrais lui dire : « Nous avons besoin d’une protection internationale parce que notre communauté chrétienne a subi une migration forcée ».

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais lui montrer les églises et les maisons brûlées, afin qu’il voie les dégâts que l’État Islamique a laissés derrière lui dans cette ville. Et aussi notre Musée du patrimoine de Baghdeda pour lui présenter notre histoire et notre culture.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita tiene un valor moral, no económico. Este tema ocupará la opinión pública en el mundo y especialmente en Irak. Siento que tengo un lugar importante en él.


¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Será genial conocerlo y querría decirle “necesitamos protección internacional, porque nuestra comunidad cristiana ha sufrido una migración forzada”.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me gustaría mostrarle las iglesias y las casas quemadas, para que vea el daño que dejó ISIS en esta ciudad. Y también nuestro Museo del patrimonio de Baghdeda para presentarle nuestro historia y cultura.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch hat einen moralischen Wert, keinen wirtschaftlichen. Er wird die öffentliche Meinung in der Welt und insbesondere im Irak beherrschen. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich einen wichtigen Anteil daran habe.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Es wird großartig sein, ihn zu treffen, und ich möchte ihm sagen: „Wir brauchen internationalen Schutz, weil unsere christliche Gemeinschaft unter der erzwungenen Auswanderung gelitten hat“.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die Kirchen und ausgebrannten Häuser zeigen, damit er den Schaden sieht, den ISIS in dieser Stadt angerichtet hat. Und auch unser Heimatmuseum in Baghdida, um ihm unsere Geschichte und Kultur näher zu bringen.

What does this visit mean to you?
This visit has a moral value rather than an economic one. This is a topic that will engage public opinion around the world and especially in Iraq. I feel as though I have an important part to play in it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?

It would be wonderful to be able to meet him, and I would like to be able to say to him, “We need international protection, because our Christian community was forcibly displaced.”

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places should he visit?
I would like to be able to show him the churches and houses that were burnt out, so that he could see the destruction left behind by IS in this city. And also our Baghdeda Heritage Museum, so that we can show him our history and culture.