A new chapel has opened at the site of a 1992 massacre of catechists and their families during the Mozambique civil war. The church of St. Mary Magdalen was recently consecrated in a ceremony accompanied by dancing, singing and drums.
Many children were there as women in colorful costumes sang and danced, many with a baby strapped to their front or back with a long cloth.
Bishop of Inhambane Adriano Langa was the chief celebrant at the Mass, where he formally blessed the chapel of the village of Nyapapa in Guiua parish.
The chapel was built with the help of international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“During Holy Mass the whole congregation remembered our benefactors, prayed for them and gave thanks for them. It was a beautiful moment, and we felt that we are not alone," Fr. Diamantino Antunes wrote to ACN.
Some 23 people were murdered at the parish pastoral center on March 22, 1992. The local priest had invited a group of catechists to an ongoing one year training session there. The catechists had brought their families, coming from as far as 250 miles away at a time of 16 years of civil war and immeasurable suffering.
The first evening after their arrival they celebrated a feast, joyous for reaching their destination. That same night, they were ambushed by a horde of rebels which included child soldiers doped with alcohol and drugs and turned into killers.
Two catechists were shot dead immediately.
Sr. Therese Balela of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary had shortly before gone into the house after plaiting the little girls’ hair. She tried to keep her fellow sisters safe by barricading them into a room. According to ACN, she then ran into the chapel to rescue the Blessed Sacrament. One attacker saw her and shot through the window, but the bullet missed.
The rebels separated the children from the adults. Some were tortured.
The adults, realizing they were going to die, asked the soldiers to allow them to pray.
“At this they were murdered with knives and axes. Even little children were butchered bestially," ACN says.
Some survived despite their terrible injuries, but 10 children and 13 adults were murdered.
Many more would have died had the priest not successfully informed his bishop, who called the army for help.
The rebels were surprised by the government troops and fled, leaving the surviving victims.
Today behind the pastoral center is a memorial next to the graves of these martyrs.
A cross in front of their graves bears all their names. The simple graves each have a green wooden cross, along with the name of the victim. A small thatched chapel has been built behind the graves.
On the 22nd of each month Catholics from the entire region gather there and commemorate the dead with a Holy Mass. The catechists who have completed their training each year in the pastoral center make their solemn promise in the presence of the bishop to serve the Church, with the martyred catechists as their example.
The Diocese of Inhambe has almost 300,000 Catholics in an area of almost 30,000 square miles but only eight diocesan and 38 religious priests. The diocese’s 22 parishes are widely scattered among villages, making chapels and support from catechists essential.
Father Antunes has expressed hopes that ACN will help the faithful of the village of Maunzo to build a chapel of their own. These villagers now face a five mile walk if they want to attend Mass in the parish church.