Four years after Islamist extremists destroyed their church, Catholics in a north-east Mozambique parish are still gathering around the ruins every Sunday to pray and “give thanks to God”.

The faith of the Christian community in Muslim-majority Mocímboa da Praia remains strong despite no priests or religious being left in the town, catechist Vicente Gabriel from Pemba Diocese told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Violent clashes between jihadist insurgents seeking to establish a hard-line Islamic state and the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces have been ongoing in Cabo Delgado Province since October 2017, killing thousands and displacing more than a million people.

Mr Gabriel said that residents fled when the terrorists occupied the town in 2020, but many of them have since returned.

He added: “Now we are here, but we have nothing… The church was destroyed, as was the parish house.”

He went on to say that Christians meet where the Church of the Immaculate Conception used to stand to pray together “every Sunday, under the mango trees.

“Conditions are terrible, but we don’t give up. We continue to practise our faith, and we give thanks to God.”

He added: “We sit here in the shade of the trees, but we don’t even have chairs. Nonetheless, we continue to pray to God…

“If all goes well, God will provide us with a way to acquire chairs.”

Teresa Mariano, a member of the parish choir, told ACN: “We gather early in the morning on Sunday and ask God to send the Holy Spirit upon us, to give us strength to carry on, so that our parish is not completely abandoned.”

Mr Gabriel said: “Our message from Mocímboa da Praia to the world is that you [would] continue to pray for us.

“We must have faith. One day the parish of the Immaculate Conception might return to what it once was, we have that hope.”

The catechist concluded: “God is everything. We have courage, we cannot abandon God because of these events – these are all signs of life.”

Speaking to ACN, Bishop António Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo of Pemba said that he visited Mocímboa da Praia in July 2023 and was moved by the devotion and joy he witnessed.

He added: “We celebrated Mass beneath the mango trees, in the rain and cold, but the people remained for two hours, singing and dancing.”

ACN is in contact with Bishop Sandramo about possible help with the reconstruction of churches and other parish buildings destroyed by extremists.

The charity’s support for Mozambique has included emergency aid, pastoral assistance and counselling for IDPs (internally displaced persons), as well as formation support for seminarians and subsistence aid for priests and religious.