A Comboni Sister was killed during the attack on the Chipene mission, in the province of Nampula, in northern Mozambique, on the night of September 6-7. Sister Maria De Coppi, 84, from Italy, had been in Mozambique since 1963. Sister Angeles Lopez, a Spanish sister, escaped the terrorist attack.
The Italian religious was killed in an attack on a Catholic mission located in northeastern Mozambique, which has been plagued by jihadist violence for nearly five years. The sister was killed by “terrorists” who attacked the Chipene mission, in the diocese of Nacala, a port city, the Comboni Missionary Sisters said in a statement.
According to information from Fides, the attackers destroyed the main structures of this mission located in a forest area and dedicated to education: “the church, the hospital and the primary and secondary school. Sister Maria was hit by a bullet in the head as she tried to reach the dormitory where the few remaining students.” A traditional chief also lost his life.
“Two missionaries from the Diocese of Concordia-Pordenone managed to get away. Fr. Loris Vignandel, 45, from Corva and former parish priest of Chions (Pordenone), and Fr. Lorenzo Barro, who was rector of the diocesan seminary of the city of Destra Tagliamento.”
Sr. Angeles Lopez, from Murcia, and another Italian religious managed to escape the attack and hide in the forest, together with a group of girls, according to the general secretary of the Comboni Sisters in Italy, Enza Carini.
“The other Sisters have set off to reach Chipene and take her body to bury it in another mission,” said Archbishop Inacio Saure, Archbishop of Nampula, of which Nacala is a suffragan diocese. As for the perpetrators of the attack, Bishop Suare said that “we are not sure if they are Islamic terrorists, even though it is very likely that they were the ones who attacked the mission.”
Catholics increasingly targeted by jihadists
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on Wednesday, saying in a statement that its fighters “killed four Christians, including an Italian nun.” The jihadists have recently made incursions further south, as a regional military mission unfolds in Cabo Delgado.
According to the Italian press, Sister Maria De Coppi, in her 80s, had worked in Mozambique since the 1960s. The mission housed people who had fled their homes because of jihadist attacks in that country.
The attack on the Chipene mission is not the first carried out by these armed extremists against Catholic churches in Mozambique. In April and then in October 2020, the mission of Nangololo, the second oldest mission of the diocese of Pemba (district of Muidumbe, province of Cabo Delgado) was attacked and completely destroyed.
The Sao Pedro de Lurio de Chipene mission was founded in 1963 by Sister Maria herself. The sister, born in 1939 and originally from Santa Lucia di Piave (diocese of Vittorio Veneto, in northern Italy), had arrived on Mozambican soil after a long journey by boat.
Since January 1, 2022, 13 priests and 2 religious sisters have been killed (1 in Asia, 8 in Africa, and 6 in Asia), according to a count by the editorial staff of Sismografo.
The violence in Mozambique has killed nearly 4,000 people since October 2017, according to the NGO Acled, which collects data on conflict zones, and caused the flight of 820,000 people. The region of Nampula, where the mission is located, had so far been spared from jihadist attacks, which had mainly targeted the neighboring province of Cabo Delgado, rich in natural gas.
“It's an area that was considered relatively safe until now,” Piers Pigou, a consultant for southern Africa at the Crisis Group think tank, told AFP.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said on Wednesday that the jihadists had split into several small cells of up to 15 militants each to avoid detection. “In recent days, they have been moving around Nampula province,” Filipe Nyusi said at an event in the southern town of Xai-Xai, which was streamed online.
Since August 27, six people have been beheaded, three kidnapped, and dozens of homes burned in attacks in Nampula and other towns, the head of state added.