Solidarity during Angola civil war

During the Golden Jubilee celebrations marking the first arrival of the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Angola, many people recalled the weekly visits the Sisters used to make to the rural hospital at Cuamato, 80 kms south of Chiulo, after they had been forced to pull out the resident team there. The strategic bridge over the river Cunene was repeatedly bombed. Sister Maura Lynch was the doctor-in-charge, and was accompanied on these visits by different Sisters and members of staff.

To cross the river meant hanging onto the partly-submerged parapet. The Bishop and Vicar General would drive from the town of Ondgiva to meet them, and hoist them up with ropes on the opposite side, from where they could be driven to the hospital at Cuamato.

This routine was followed week in, week out. Every time bombers appeared on the skyline, everyone ducked for shelter in the surrounding trees.

At one stage, news of the Bishop's community and the people of Cuamato blacked out at a time of intense bombardment. The Sisters at Chiulo were very worried. It was far too dangerous to attempt the journey by car, which would surely draw suspicion from the planes overhead. So Sister Maura and Sister Brigid set out from Chiulo at dawn by bicycle, carrying back-packs with food and medicines.

Scorched by the blistering sun, they had to rest in the bush every hour.

They also had to take cover every time the bombers appeared overhead. The 80-km journey took all the daylight hours to complete, and the following day, having been reassured that all was well in Cuamato and Ondgiva, they turned around and cycled all the way home to Chiulo.

Sister Cecilia Asuzu repeated this feat some time later, when word reached Chiulo that there was no food in Cuamato.

Those events are still remembered by the people of southern Angola today, as was recalled during the recent celebrations: "The Sisters were always with us, whether in times of joy or in times of sorrow during the war situation in our country. Without let-up, we saw them crossing the Rio Cunene by canoe, or on foot with water to their shoulders, going to help our people of Xangongo and Cuamato-Ombadja. Our words cannot describe this satisfactorily but the birds and the trees could tell you."