Page 4, 14th December 1973

14th December 1973
Page 4
Page 4, 14th December 1973 — Church silence on Wiriyamu

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Locations: Rome, Tete, Lusaka


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Church silence on Wiriyamu


On December 16, 1972, just one year ago this Sunday. more than 400 people, most of them women and children. were murdered as tt reprisal by the Portuguese security forces in the villages of 1Viriyainu, Chawola and Juwau. 15 miles south of the town of Tete in central Mozambique,

Sonic were burnt alive in their huts. many of the children were kicked to death, most welt shut, Whole families were simply Wiped out or left with one single survivor. Naturally there were survivors — some people were away from home that Saturday afternoon visiting friends or working on an outlying field.

There were close neighbours whose homes nevertheless stood outside the condemned area. And a few people actually got away from the massacre in a wounded and shocked condition; they found their way the next day to the mission hospital at San Pedro.

Of these the name of the boy Antonio is now well known. as is that of the s oung woman Podista whose husband Mehenga and three-year-old son Chifanikiso perished at Chawola.

Then there was Serino: a 13year-old girl who escaped to carry \vial her the terrible story of the 'mistier of her lather Irisoni, his two wives. Sosa and Liria. six brothers and sisters. from a month-old girl Pus! to her married brother Remadi, Remadi's wife Luisa and his one-year-old son Manuel — 11 members of this fancily all wiped out on that one unforgettable day,

It may be that still more wicked things have occurred elsewhere. but it is safe to say that there is no recorded .episode quite as monstrous as

this which has taken place in any country in recent colonial history. It is truly extraordinary how people, even devout ehurchpeople, can be found who are able to shrug it off almost as a mat le r of indifference.

A very careful report of what had happened, including the names of IMO victims. YY as drawn up by the group of priests working in the area within three weeks: it was not drawn up for publication but for submission to the Portuguese bishops of Mozambique, sonic of whom would be quick to reject it if it could he shown to he inaccurate or exaggerated.

It was not the first time a massacre had happened or been reported in the Tete diocese. Four different smaller massacres were carefully recorded by the missionaries at Musiumbura in 1971 and their reports went to the bishops, yet no clear protest had been made by the latter.

The missionaries who wrote those reports, Frs. Alfonso Valverde and Martin Hernandez. were arrested as a consequence on January 2, 1972. and held in prison in Machaya, Lourenco Marques, untried for over 22 months. before sudden expulsioti under terms of an amnesty last month.

The Portuguese Government could not face their trial because of the evidenee which would have been produced, just as it was produced at the trial early this year in Beira of two Portuguese priests. Frs. Sampaio and Mendes.

The Mueumbura massacres were ol' relatively small numbers

of people not more than a hundred in Lill_ Rut when. in and around Wirly aims more than 400 died in a single day. the bishops of Mozambique felt they could not avoid making some protest. and they did so on March 31 in a letter to the Go ve rnor-G e ne ra .

They joined their voices to that of I he Bishop of Tete to "diegxnpartei os our ,indnpl or (silt evehementthe i n tone of the letter as a whole remained somewhat obsequious; it was private. and it elicited little response, It is good evidence to the fact of the massacres — if more is needed where there is already so much -but it could not possibly he regarded as an effect ke evangelical response or the Catholic Church to Li modern' Massacre of the Innocents in which those murdered were mostly non-Christians and those who .ordered the murder were Christians.

Teri-lisle as Wiriyamu was. it is essential to realise that it is pot d -isolated event but one particularly shocking incident in a long history or torture and repression.

Only live days previousls. On December 11, the president of the synod of the Preshyterian ChUrCh Of Mu la M h Zech:qui:1s Manganhch. was found hanged in his prison cell in IMilehavis He had heen there for six months with hundreds of other Protestant leaders.

He was a man of 60., With him %Nati imprisoned the vice-president of the synod, Pastor Casimir Millie. aged 64; the former president. Rion!' Gabriel Maeavi, aged 75. and many others. Some of these men were given over 100 lashes in the attempt to make them confess complicity with Erelimo, and they remained ill for months when they were at last released.

Their treatment has been described very precisely in a report produced by Niall Mac Dermot, the SecretaryGeneral of the International Commission of Jurists.

Behind Wiriyamu and Chawola, behind the death of Pastor Manganhela, behind the long imprisonment of Frs. Valverde and Hernandez, lie thousands of other cases of massacre, torture and arbitrary imprisonment of which we will never know.

To such methods has the Portuguese administraion been reduced in its determination to maintain its rule over vast areas of Africa in face of the hostility of the people and inereasine armed resistance.

It may well be said that while all this is terrible enough, it is still in worse than what has taken place in Burundi these last two sears or in Chile these last three months, in Albania for many years, in Stalinist Russia, in Nazi Germany.

That is true and it is the duty of Free men — and Christians are committed to the cause of human freedom by the gospel of freedom they proclaim — to protest and set their faces against all these things: the contemporary ill-treatment of the defenceless by the tyrannical. Accurate. public. sustained protest does do good: few governments want the bad name such protest can bring with it. Murdering people is one thing; being publicly proclaimed as a murderer is another.

In the case of the Portuguese Government and Mozambique, however. Catholics have an extra and special responsibility hich derives from the Concordat Lind Missionary Agreement made between Portugal and the Vatican in 1940 and is still in force. The greater your links with someone doing such wrong. the greater your duty to interfere. to protest, to dissociate yourself from the wrong done.

If you know that such and sueh a person is hullving and torturing others or stealing their property. and you then continue to go and has e tea with him, to [alos his hospitality, to accept expensive Christmas presents from him, then you are identified with his evil actions in a was that you are not with those of someone with whom you are unconnected.

By these agreements the t'atholie Church in Portuguese A fritsa receives very eonsiderable financial support from the government bishops. are paid the same salary as governors, priests and nuns receive

free first-class train tickets.

in return, the Church has itgreed to submit a report on the activities of every diocese and missionary society to the government every year, to allow the goysrnment a veto on episcopal appointments. to appoint only Portuguese to senior ecclesiastical posts, to use the Portuguese language except for religious teaching, and so on. The same governors who order the ii atssacres pay the bishops.

In the colonial era there was a danger in maily countries of missionaries becoming identined with the colonial power in the eyes of local people. How much greater is this danger in Portuguese Africa. where the Catholic Church is so greatly privileged?

What justification can there he for such privileges which effeeti‘ ely link the Church with the purposes of colonialism and with diserimination against Protestants?

The Portuguese Colonial Act of 1930 describes the Catholic missions as "instruments of maim-12d influence" — instruments. in fact, of that "Portugalisation," which is central to the government's At the beginning of the extraordinary 92-clause indictment of Frs. Valverde and Hernandez it is stated that "as foreign missionaries in the service of Portugal they received their relevant subsidies and other benefits attributed by the statute, and in exchange ge atgretheed to convert their

Portuguese way of life."

Here indeed is the crux of the matter: Frs. Valverde and Hernandez were not prepared to convert A fricans to "the Portuguese way of life,They wanted them to he African Christians. loyal to the Christian Faith but also to their African culture. language and homeland. Such an aim is quite simplt treason for the Portuguese goverament. It implies threatening the continued Parittigutilleisreiesr.ule of these African ,l Was for this reason that. the White Fathers one of the most experiesiced and professional groups of missionaries in the Catholic Church felt they simply could riot continue working in bt thqeuye s eun under r a p ocsosni bdl eit amon s. biguity and withdrew in May 1971.

Nearly 100 Catholic priests

have either withdrawn or been deported from Mozambique in the last few yeas — nearly 20 per cent of the whole body of non-African clergy in the. country. And the number of African priests is extremely few.

But while others stay, and above all while the Concordat continues, Catholics and the Catholic Church have the major obligation of challenging in justice and dissociating themselves from government roliclapYpeetnedby.and large this has not Many priests, including Por

tuguese priests. have done so immensely courageously. but from higher quarters — from the bishops of Mozambique. from the Vatican and from the bishops of other countries there has been an almost deafening silence.

No one need doubt that the Pope is deeply concerned about the terrible things which have been taking place; it is the expression Or Ihm concern and its effectiveness which are in question. The Vatican appears to think more in terms of diplomacy. of renewing the Concordat. of financial support, than in clearly proclaiming the Gospel within this situation.

Increasingly Catholics in other parts of Africa — as Archbishop Milingo of Lusaka has demonstrated — and Protestant Christians still more. are impatient and angry with this silence, with the apparent collusion between the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and Portuguese colonialism, Rome May have to choose and it should have to choose — between Portuguese subsidies and the friendship and loyalty of Christians in dozens of other Countries.

The basic issue, however, is not one of the Church's selfinterest but of our primar evangelical duties. This applies also to the Church in this country. It was striking how silent our bishops have been.

Yet if we are Portugal's oldest ally. old friendship surely gives one a special right and duty to speak out in abhorrence or such i(ppalling actions. British Catholics are linked to Portugal in still more special ways: no group in the ssasrld has a greater responsibility in this particular matter. Yet not a word has been

said even privately.

I had dozens and dozens of letters or support in arid after July. but not one came from a Catholic bishop. Not one felt he could even write me at note of personal encouragement and the promise of prayers at a time when as a Catholic priest I was under such puhlic pressare and the suhject of so much abuse.

Yet what is as I doing? Protesting at the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians and defending the veracity M brother priests whose reports had been supported by their Superior-Generals What could have been a more straightforward, traditional duty than that?

Manse many Christians rallied to My assistance, but not a single Catholic bishop. Are they the chief proclaimers of a gospel of peace and justiee and mere): for our generation or are they not'? It is because I believe in their ministry as I believe in that of Rome, that I am sad to see it misused or becoming irrelevant.

The wretched inhabitants of Wiriyamu were among the • poorest of the poor. living their simple lives like the martyred innocents of Bethlehem. MY appeal to the Church is a (tic Church, the Rods ()r c.. hrwi straightforward one: i tist o sbte, identifying not with Herod but with the Innocents: to reject the first-class bus tickets that Herod is offering priests upon the road to Jericho so long tts they don't notice the wounded by the roadid e.

Frs. Valverde and Hernandez, locked up for 22 months in their prison cells, did do just this they refused those bus tickets at whates es cost. Will (he Church not do the same?

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