Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Monday met with the Catholic bishop of the northern city of Pemba, Luis Fernando Lisboa, with whom he spoke about the humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado, caused by the terrorist attacks by islamist fundamentalists.
The meeting, in the bishop's Pemba residence, lasted for about an hour, according to the independent television station STV. It was clearly a friendly discussion, after which Nyusi called Lisboa "our bishop".
Nyusi told reporters that the country is living through a moment in which people need to engage in dialogue and understand each other, despite differing viewpoints.
He recognised the need for the government and the Catholic Church to share information about activities to lessen the suffering of people affected by terrorism. "The bishop, as the top representative of the Catholic Church in the province has a lot of information provided by believers", Nyusi said. "This gives him a great advantage. This is information and ideas that need to be shared".
He said he also explained to Lisboa the purposes of the Agency for the Integrated Development of the North, which he launched in Pemba earlier in the day.
Nyusi welcomed the idea advanced by the bishop for "psycho-social assistance, in religious and other forms, for the victims of the terrorist attacks. These are people whose spouses and children have been beheaded by the terrorists".
Lisboa thanked Nyusi for the meeting, which he regarded as "very rich and very fruitful".
The meeting followed a wave of scurrilous attacks against the bishop in Mozambican social media by people who act as if they are speaking on behalf of the ruling Frelimo Party, although they hold no positions at all within Frelimo.
On the basis of no evidence, they accused Lisboa of supporting the terrorists. One of them suggested he should be expelled from the country, and even that the Pope should excommunicate him from the Catholic Church.
Far from excommunicating the bishop, Pope Francis phoned him up on 19 August, offering him moral support. The Pope said he is "very close" to the people of Cabo Delgado, and to the bishop. Lisboa held a press conference to reveal the contents of the Pope's message - and one demented reaction from the bishop's enemies was that he had invented the phone call.
Bishop Lisboa is playing a significant role in mobilising support for the many tens of thousands of people displaced by the terrorist attacks, and Nyusi made it clear that the government welcomes this support.