(Source: MJ/Vatican News)
Pope Francis on Wednesday morning made a surprise phone call to the Bishop of Pemba, in Mozambique.
Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa has been a consistent voice drawing attention to the worsening situation in the African country’s northern province of Cabo Delgado, one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Since 2010, Cabo Delgado has witnessed the discovery off its coast of substantial gas reserves worth $60 billion. The area is now home to Africa’s largest reserve of liquid natural gas, attracting enormous investment for its eventual extraction. A growing and relentless insurgency now threatens the investments.
“The Pope is following events in our region with great concern”
“I received a call from Pope Francis, who gave me much reassurance and consolation. In the call, [the Pope] expressed his closeness to the bishop and people of the Cabo Delgado region.” Bishop Lisboa told Vatican News.
“The Holy Father said he was following events in our province with great concern and that he is constantly praying for us. He also said to me that if there was anything else that he could do, we should not hesitate to ask him. He is ready to walk with us,” recounted the Brazilian-born prelate, who has received death threats for his unwavering defence of the poor and the voiceless and his criticisms that the Mozambican government could do more to protect the people.
“I expressed my deep appreciation… for the gesture of the phone call and told him how grateful we were when on 12 April he prayed for Cabo Delgado on Easter Sunday during the Urbi et orbi blessing.
“I told him that his referring to the humanitarian crisis in our province made other people also take notice of our plight. We began to see more congregations, some [humanitarian] organisations, individuals – both local and outside start to reach out to help.
“I said: ‘Holy Father, you have placed Cabo Delgado on the world map.’ He simply remarked in Italian, ‘Che bello!’ [How lovely!].”
Sadness over a jihadist attack in the port town of Mocimboa da Praia
Bishop Fernando Lisboa also said he informed Pope Francis about the plight of the port town of Mocimboa da Praia that has been seized by jihadist militants said to be linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS).
According to reports, government forces vacated the strategic town after the jihadists attacked it last week. IS issued a statement claiming the seizure of Mocimboa da Praia, although some observers in the region point to the involvement of the Somali-based Al-Shabab militants. In truth, it is not entirely clear who is behind the Cabo Delgado attacks.
With the town of Mocimboa da Praia in the hands of Islamist insurgents, Bishop Fernando Lisboa and the diocese of Pemba have had no news from two religious sisters for over a week now.
“I told the Holy Father about the port town of Mocimboa da Praia which has been taken by jihadists and how we have not heard from two of our religious women in that city… Upon hearing the news, the Pope exclaimed, ‘How very sad!’ He promised to pray for this intention,” Bishop Lisboa recounted.
The bishop added, “As we were concluding the phone call, the Pope reminisced about his visit to Mozambique last year, and said even as he was going around our country, Cabo Delgado was very much on his mind.
“He encouraged me to contact Cardinal Michael Czerny [of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development] for help with humanitarian assistance.
“For my part, I assured the Holy Father of our closeness to his ministry, through prayer. I told him that we pray for him every day.
“As a reply, he said to me in the Spanish language, ‘Adelante!’ [encouraging the bishop and people to ‘Carry on!’ or ‘Keep up the faith!’].
“Finally, to end the conversation, the Pope blessed the people of Cabo Delgado as well as all Mozambicans,” narrated the bishop of Pemba.
Francis counsels prayers to St. Raymond Nonnatus for couples looking to conceive
Along with his phone call to the Bishop of Pemba, the Pope has also sent a message to a parish in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires, recalling his visit to the church when he was archbishop there.
“I remember my meetings there in those festive days – the blessings of mothers, children, couples asking for a child… a true hymn to the life to come,” the Argentinian pope wrote in a handwritten letter to Father Rubén Ceraci, the parish priest of the Church of St. Raymond Nonnatus.
The Pope, who headed the archdiocese of Buenos Aires from February 28, 1998 until his election as Pope on March 13, 2013, vividly remembered visiting the parish on the feast of its patron saint, August 31.
The patron saint of midwives, children and pregnant women
“Even today when at the audiences a couple asks me for a blessing for a son,” the Pope wrote, “I tell them to pray to Saint Raymond Nonnatus.” “And if they are Argentinians, I advise them to visit the shrine of the saint on Via Cervantes.”
Raymond Nonnatus was a 13th-century Mercedarian priest from Catalonia, Spain, who was taken out of the womb of his mother after her death, hence his name “Nonnatus” (from non natus in Latin, meaning “not born”).
Thus, he is the patron saint of childbirth, midwives, children, and pregnant women, as well as priests defending the confidentiality of confession.
Referring to the Novena to St. Raymond, which begins on Saturday, August 22, Pope Francis wished the faithful of the parish of St. Raymond Nonnatus “a beautiful celebration” despite the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am sure that grace, peace, health and fertility will be abundant,” the Pope wrote.
The theme of this year’s celebrations is “Together with Saint Raymond we embrace hope.” Each of the nine days of the novena will be marked by a moment of prayer in the evening. The novena will culminate on the feast of the saint, August 31, with an evening Mass by Cardinal Mario Poli of Buenos Aires, the Primate of Argentina.