Church mourns Italian nun killed in Mozambique attack
By Sophie Peeters
An 84-year-old Italian nun, Sister Maria De Coppi, was killed in an attack in Chipene, Mozambique, on Tuesday evening.
Suspected terrorists raided the mission outpost and set fire to the Catholic church, the Sisters’ residence, the hospital, and their equipment.
Two nuns, one Italian and another Spanish, and two priests managed to escape.
Sister Maria De Coppi comes from the Veneto region in Italy, and had served as a missionary in Mozambique since 1963.
Attack on missionaries
The assault happened late Tuesday evening when a terrorist group attacked the Comboni Mission of Chipene in Mozambique’s Nacala Diocese.
A group of attackers entered the compound and the nuns’ living quarters, killing Sr. De Coppi and setting fire to the mission structures, including the parish, the dormitory, and the new computer room.
Mourning for a sister’s death
The Secretary General of the Comboni Missionaries, Sr. Enza Carini, expressed her “deep sorrow” in a condolence message sent 7 September in the wake of the horrific events that took place the night before.
“Let us pray for the Eternal rest of our Sister,” Sr. Enza Carini said. "She will certainly intercede for the Mozambican people and for peace in this country that she loved so much."
Many people have fled the region in response to recent attacks, taking refuge in local churches.
A nun who stayed close to the people
Born in 1939 in the province of Treviso, Veneto, Italy, Sr. De Coppi arrived in Mozambique in 1963.
After obtaining her Mozambiquan citizenship, Sr. Maria worked in various missions in the province of Nampula.
The last two years in Mozambique, according to a 2021 interview with Sr. Maria by the Italian newspaper L’Azione.it, were extremely difficult due to land right conflicts in the North of the country, a cyclone and prolonged drought.
"I try to be close to the people," she said in the interview, "especially by listening to what they tell me. Despite material poverty, listening to others remains a great gift, it is to recognize their dignity."
Cardinal Zuppi: Hopes for stability amidst violence, terror
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, head of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) expressed "deep condolences" for the nun's death in a statement.
“We cry for another sister who with simplicity, dedication and silence offered her life for the love of the Gospel," the Cardinal said.
He hopes that the sacrifice of Sister Maria “will be a seed of peace and reconciliation in a land that, after years of stability, it is again plagued by violence, caused by Islamist groups that for some years have sowed terror and death in vast areas of the north of the country."
Church and country leaders ‘can do more’
Alessandro Monteduro, director of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need – Italy, said there are thousands of victims of local terrorist groups called al-Sunna wa Jama'a, locally known as al–Shabaab.
“A new generation of internally displaced persons is being created, now well over 800,000, and evidently the government is unable to control the activities Islamist criminals and terrorists. More must be done by both civil authorities and religious leaders to curb the rise of terrorist attacks against Christian groups and isolate radicalization with greater determination,” Mr. Monteduro added.
The attack comes on the eighth anniversary of the massacres of Missionaries of Mary Sr. Lucia Pulici, Sr. Olga Raschietti and Sr. Bernadetta Bogian in Burundi: “Eight years later, the missionaries are still paying the tribute of blood to evangelise the African nations. The barbaric murder of the Italian nun Sister Maria De Coppi is just the umpteenth blow to the Christian community in Mozambique and Africa as a whole," concludes Mr. Monteduro.
Archbishop of Nampula
Archbishop Inacio Saure of Nampula – the diocese where the mission of Chipene is located – said the response of the people is to flee into the forest, with numbers “still difficult to quantify.”
Sister De Coppi’s religious sisters, the Archbishop continued, have set out to Chipene to retrieve the body of the slain nun and bury it in another mission.