What started as a civil war in Mozambique five years ago over economic conflict has grown into a religious jihad by Islamic terrorists, with the Islamic State, in particular, waging relentless attacks on Christians in an effort to eradicate them.
The most recent attack came on September 6 when Islamic militants attacked the mission in Chipene in the province of Nampula. While most of the children had returned home and were not at the boarding houses, some children were living at the mission. Attackers forced the nuns to leave the convent, but 83-year-old nun Sister Maria de Coppi remembered that there were some children staying there and went back for them. When she went back, the terrorists shot and killed her. The militants then burned the entire mission including the church, hospital, school, boarding houses, library, and vehicles.
Bishop Alberto Vera of Nacala said, “The attackers broke open the tabernacle and vandalized part of the sacristy, looking for whatever they could find — probably money.”
Coppi, who was Italian, came to Mozambique in 1963 and has served the mission for 59 years.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said that, on the same day, terrorists beheaded six citizens and also kidnapped three and burned dozens of houses in the Nampula province.
The violence has continued to become more religiously motivated. An anonymous missionary voiced concern for the turn the insurgent group has recently taken. “Since July this year it appears that the Islamic State has taken control of the group,” the missionary said, adding:
“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. There will be no chance of dialogue with them, especially if they are assimilated by the Islamic State.”
The violence started in 2017 when a civil war broke out. The source of the tension seemed to be accusations of corruption perpetrated by the ruling Frelimo party as the area struggled economically despite being rich in resources such as gold, rubies, gas, graphite, and more. While the violence may have started for economic reasons, Islamic militants seized on the unrest and have since radicalized much of the area.
According to the BBC, “The coastal zone is historically Muslim. Local fundamentalist preachers said Sharia, or Islamic law, would bring equality and a fair sharing of wealth.” Then, persecution awareness organization International Christian Concern explained, “In 2017, jihadist insurgents began in the Cabo-Delgado province, winning over some locals due to the fact that they gave back resources to villagers from the government, and killed no one. This did not last, however, as IS started setting fire to Christian villages and killing those who lived there.”
Last year, Amy Lamb, director of communications for Open Doors U.S.A., said that growing violence against Christians was an attempt to eradicate Christianity. Lamb explained that various Islamic terror groups are “organizing together in order to expand their territories throughout the African continent, and their goal is really to eradicate Christianity from this territory and, unfortunately, in some ways, it’s working.”
The numerous attacks have led to the displacement of 800,000 people.
A multitude of nations have sent military aid while Mozambique’s military has been accused of corruption, including 7,000 so-called ghost soldiers. The ghost soldiers are fictitious and the salaries that would be due them were paid to senior defense officials. There are also children of former officers and politicians who receive a salary without ever being in military training.
While forces from Rwanda have been effective at driving the militants out of certain regions, the Islamic State has continued committing heinous acts in the northern region of Mozambique.
Ulrich Kny, head of Aid to the Church in Need’s project desk for Mozambique, said the economic inequality in the region has helped to radicalize the young. “The whole region, with its rich resources and the hitherto peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians, should in fact offer a great potential for development, but the neglect and the poverty of whole sections of the population make it instead a dangerous breeding ground for the radicalization of the young,” he said.
“May the sacrifice of the life of Sister Maria De Coppi, who shed her blood trying to save the young girls in the boarding house from the terrorists, help us to find solutions for a regional development to benefit the entire population and provide new opportunities for the young, so that peace may return to the region.”
President Nyusi recently said, “Our Defense and Security Forces, with the support of friendly forces, have been closing in on the terrorists who, in their flight, are perpetrating macabre crimes against innocent people. We are aware that the solution for the end of terrorism goes beyond military action.”
Whatever the beginning cause of the violence was, it is now a religious conflict, with the Islamic forces bent on killing Christians and driving them from the area. While some may believe things are improving because forces are being driven away from certain areas, those forces are now staging a long-term assault on Christians. The egregious violence must be opposed and ended.
Over the weekend, For the Martyrs held the third March for Martyrs to draw attention to persecution around the world. While it may seem unreal that Christians could be facing such horrific persecution, it is a reality for Christians in many parts of the globe. That persecution could one day hit home. It’s already starting to as government authorities turn a blind eye to attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches.
Coppi provided us with an example of living a life of service and standing up for others in the face of violence. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) and then proceeded to lay down His life for the whole world. Sister Maria de Coppi followed His example and laid down her life for others.
May we do the same every day by putting others first, as she did; moreover, should any of us ever find ourselves faced with the choice of saving ourselves or others, pray that we have the faith and courage to step up and make the ultimate expression of true sacrificial love.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.