Click to listen highlighted text! Powered By G Speech

Share our content!

Sister Irma, despite her advanced age and dangers, remained at her post in Chipene (Mozambique). Last September she was killed by the jihadist madness. May the memory of her and so many others who offer their lives for Christ not disappear.   

by Alba Arcuri

È a strange twist of fate, that of knowing someone – their name, their face, what they did – after they have passed away. it also happened in the case of Irma Maria De Coppi, an 83-year-old Comboni nun, killed in Mozambique, in Chipene, by a jihadist commando on 6 September 2022.

This is how we met her, in the uproar caused by her assassination, but she had been on a mission in Mozambique since 1963, immediately after having professed her religious vows in Verona, and served in this country until the end of her days. Mozambique is a land crossed by conflicts, violence, famine, drought. Sister Irma was aware of the dangers of the environment in which she lived, but she worked to help the families together with the other missionaries. In the parish where she lived, 400 families who had fled from conflict zones had been welcomed. You had also given some interviews to denounce the difficult situation in the country, especially in the last two years. An intensification of jihadist threats, especially marked by Isis. And a war for control of the gas fields, of which the area is rich.

Sister Irma Maria left quickly: the commando of about twenty terrorists attacked the Chipene mission, firing several shots, one hit Sister Irma Maria in the head, while the other four nuns, Angeles, Paula , Eleonora (also Italian) and Sandrine and some students who were staying in the mission managed to escape amidst the screams. Two missionaries fidei donum (diocesan priests who work as missionaries in foreign dioceses),  Don Lorenzo Barro, 56 years old, and Don Loris Vignandel, 45 years old, both from the province of Pordenone, were on the same mission and were saved. They were "graced", as Don Loris says on the phone  he recounts those tragic moments: «After dinner, around half past eight, Don Lorenzo and I were already in our respective rooms. We heard shouts and bangs, the church doors slamming. And you shoot him. One of these, but we learned about it later, reached Sister Irma Maria.  The attack lasted a few hours. We remained locked in our rooms with locked doors and windows, waiting for the worst; that's where I picked up the phone and sent a message on Telegram."

Don Loris' message was a final farewell to his friends and relatives, but also an invocation of forgiveness for those who might soon kill him. “Forgive them too,” was written in the message. «The terrorists broke down the doors, set fire to the building and to the two home, two male and female boarding schools, where the students stay. – Don Loris continues – They also passed our doors and I can guarantee that they would have broken down very easily, but they didn't touch them». 

However, there is a reason, according to Don Loris, why they were spared. Not out of pity. «Maybe so that we could tell everyone about the horror we were experiencing. A sort of warning, a warning for the entire population of the nearby villages", he says.  The warning had been there the morning before the attack. One of the students at the boarding school had been alerted by someone from the village: «What are you still doing there in the boarding school; don't you know that they will soon come to burn you?". And so the missionaries had decided to send their students home. The students had also been warned. But not all of them managed to return home. And so some young people who did not have a ride home remained in the mission, together with the nuns including Irma Maria.  They were saved from the fury of the commando and from the flames thanks to Sister Eleonora, who made them flee into the forest.

Don Loris' story gives meaning, makes us perceive the weight and scope of what it means to live on a mission in Mozambique. «It was a demonstrative and well-organised action. Whoever accomplished it knew us well, the mission, the paths, the territory. Sister Angeles, one of the surviving Comboni Sisters, later told us that there were at least twenty members of the jihadist commando, all hooded. They grabbed her from behind, but she managed to free herself and escape." The objective of the commando, according to Don Loris, would be to sow panic, scare away the missionaries and their students, and send a warning to the people. To then have free reign. But another motive could be to find food and money: things often go together.  Two other people from the village were stabbed in the throat on the road nearby, and the missionaries saw dozens of people fleeing the village. 

«Already Pope Francis – says Don Loris –  during the blessing Urbi et orbi at Easter he asked for prayers for the difficult situation in Cabo Delgado, another area where armed groups compete for territory.  Chipene is located a little further south, it is the first parish you come across when coming from there." 

It will be difficult to resume missionary activities. Not only because the buildings, the church, the home they were set on fire. But because the people ran away and a pastoral ministry without the people would not make sense.


Click to listen highlighted text! Powered By G Speech