Mozambique: Pope Backs Nyusi Again, and Withdraws Critical Pemba Bishop

Posters calling for a vote for President Nyusi of Mozambique (file photo).

Following a long campaign against him by President Filipe Nyusi and his praise singers, the Pope on 11 February withdrew the outspoken Catholic Bishop of Pemba, Luis Fernando Lisboa. In an interview with Rádio Renascença. Bishop Lisboa stressed that the transfer initiative did not come from him. “No! I would never ask to leave Pemba,” he said.

Lisboa has become a serious thorn in Nyusi's side, as he spoke out on behalf of the people of Cabo Delgado. The Bishop's hand was clear in a statement on 15 June last year by the Catholic bishops' Episcopal Conference of Mozambique (CEM) that the cause of the Cabo Delgado war is internal, not foreign as claimed by Nyusi. "The cause of so much suffering [in Cabo Delgado] has deep roots in the time when the people were forgotten", declared the statement. The bishops said government must "intervene in the causes, not just to regain order, but also primarily with development projects, and the local use of the resources of the province for infrastructure, jobs, and essential services such as health and education." President Nyusi attacked the Bishop on 14 August and this was followed by a campaign by Nyusi's social media "praise singers" for the Pope to withdraw Lisboa. (see this newsletter 491 and 499)

The war is sometimes portrayed in a religious framework. It began in the coastal area of the Mwani who argued that Frelimo leaders in Cabo Delgado were siphoning off the wealth, leaving them poor. The Mwani are Muslim and the insurgency was initially organised by fundamentalist Islamic preachers. Frelimo leaders are Makonde and Catholic; President Nyusi was born in the Makonde "capital" of Mueda and is Catholic. In the 1999 Presidential election Pope Francis made an unprecedented visit to Mozambique during the election campaign to back Nyusi against the opposition candidate, Ossufo Momade, who is Muslim.

“Wherever the Church operates, it always seeks to be on the side of the truth and defend the individual human being, and that usually is inconvenient,” the bishop said. "This always makes problems for the members of the Church, because those who live in lies do not like the truth, those who practice corruption do not like to be charged for it." Lisboa notes there is a tradition of persecuting the clergy in Mozambique for defending the most vulnerable, and that he probably will not be the last to be forced to leave.

Bishop Lisboa will be temporarily replaced by the auxiliary bishop of Maputo, António Juliasse Sandramo. Lisboa describes Sandramo as “fearless”.

Although he is promoted to Archbishop, Lisboa is being sent to an obscure Brazilian mining city, Cachoeiro de Itapemiri in the state of Espírito Santo.

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