Two nuns held captive for nearly a month by Islamist insurgents in Mozambique have been released.
According to their religious order, the Sisters of St Joseph of Chambery, the two nuns were freed on 6 September, and were receiving medical check-ups outside the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique, near where they were taken captive. The nuns, Maria Inez Leite Ramos and Eliane Costa Santana - both natives of Brazil - are reported to be healthy after 24 days in captivity.
According to the local Bishop, Luiz Lisboa, at least 60 other individuals were sheltering alongside the nuns in their convent when it was attacked. Although “some managed to escape”, the Bishop said, “others are still there”. Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, he asked for prayers for those who are missing.
The Sisters of St Joseph of Chambery found themselves in the middle of the fighting for the city of Mocímboa da Praia last month, as extremist fighters managed to seize control of the city from government forces. The sisters, who have worked in Mocímboa since 2003, run a network of nursery schools and a social centre there. Although fighting continues in the area, Islamist forces have remained in control of the port city, which is located close to valuable natural gas resources.
Extremist violence has caused a serious humanitarian crisis in Mozambique, where the population is evenly split between Muslims and mostly Catholic Christians. Around 200,000 people have been internally displaced by the insurgency. Although insurgents for the moment seem focused on seizing control of the north of Mozambique, they have singled out Christian buildings and believers for persecution. Church groups have warned that the persecution of Christians in the region is likely to get worse.
Earlier this year a Benedictine monastery was attacked by insurgents, forcing several of the monks to flee, and several Catholic churches have been attacked or destroyed. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed, mainly by insurgent forces, and the total number of deaths stands at 1,854, including armed combatants.