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26 April 2012
In this photo, taken in 2003, Sister Margaret Abraha comforts an AIDS orphan. The Daughters of Charity bring health awareness to poor families. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
We departed early yesterday morning for the Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology, located just at the edge of the growing metropolis of Addis Ababa. We left early to beat the traffic, but we did not do too well in this regard. There is always traffic in this capital of nearly four million people, as the city is growing at an amazing rate. There is construction everywhere as old buildings are leveled and quickly replaced with modern structures of glass and steel and concrete. The road system is not equipped to handle the congestion, let alone the many disruptions due to closed roadways and construction equipment. But we made our way, despite some closed roads and with the kindness of some construction workers and roadway workers along the way.
Greeting us at the institute was Abba Daniel Assefa, O.F.M. Cap., the rector. Abba Daniel is known throughout the country for his leadership and his scholarship. His credentials, especially in Scripture, are most impressive, as is his humility.
This seminary serves most of Ethiopia and also enrolls students from five religious congregations; in recent times, this includes religious sisters. The institute does not house its students; seminarians and religious return to their respective residences after class, where they study and meet regularly with their spiritual directors. There are five seminary residences in all, and most of them are in the city proper and have seminarians from multiple jurisdictions in each one.
Abba Daniel strives very hard to elevate the quality of education and scholarship at this seminary. Not only is he a respected Scripture scholar, but he is also an authority on early Christian history and tradition in Ethiopia. He works closely with Ethiopian Orthodox scholars and other Catholic scholars, in Ethiopia and outside the country, to discover and preserve this great heritage.
We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the facility, which is owned by the Capuchin Fathers. The buildings are beautifully laid out and the grounds are spacious, quiet and peaceful. You can feel the presence of St. Francis.
One of Abba Daniel’s many outreach initiatives is a program for the laity to study Scripture and theology. During night classes and through correspondence-style courses, the friar inspires, engages and encourages lay leaders to become more familiar with their Christian heritage and faith.
The seminary educates about 130 seminarians and some ten religious sisters. One of the sister graduates has recently completed her doctoral degree in patristics and is now on the faculty at the seminary. It was at the urging of Abba Daniel that her religious superiors allowed her to pursue further studies and a place on the faculty.
A pleasant part of our visit introduced us to a New York archdiocesan priest who is on loan teaching moral theology here. Father Donald Haggerty has been on the faculty since last October. He formally taught at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, the heart of the Archdiocese of New York. It was a delight for both of us to engage in a friendly visit, bringing together two New Yorkers.
After leaving the seminary, and again through the kindness of some highway construction workers, we proceeded to drop in at the Asco School. This very new and brightly designed school facility educates about 900 children. Currently it runs from grades one to nine and plans to add another year of curriculum next year. The school is operated by the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools, who have an excellent reputation throughout the country. In fact, these Christian Brothers operate many of the finest schools in the country.
Unfortunately, because of serious delays in getting there, we did not have the opportunity to meet with the director or the community’s provincial. We left word for them about our difficulties in arriving and apologized for any disappointment that resulted. We did have an opportunity to look around the facility and were most impressed at the size and the design of this school.
The Asco School educates about 200 children who are H.I.V. positive and live with the Missionaries Sisters of Charity right next door on an adjoining piece of property. In fact, Blessed Mother Teresa’s sisters own the land on which the school is built. This partnership of the Missionary Sisters of Charity, who care for these children, and the Christian Brothers, who educate them, makes good sense and addresses both needs.
This visit marked the end of my pastoral visit to Ethiopia. Thomas Varghese and I hope to arrive in New York today in the early afternoon.
As always, it has been an honor for me to have your company on this journey of faith. The Ethiopian Catholic people, a very small minority, have been exceptionally warm and welcoming. And so have the many Orthodox believers and Muslims who have welcomed us as part of their family. And you have always been included in the good wishes, welcomes, expressions of gratitude and most importantly the promise of prayers from the poor.
The real jewel of Ethiopia is its people: they may lead simple and poor lives, but they are rich in honesty and faith. In many ways, this has been a retreat of sorts. I thank each and every one of you for your prayerful support and your generosity as members of this one CNEWA family. By sharing what God has given to us with the poor in Ethiopia, we ourselves have been richly blessed.
Next stop: New York. God bless Ethiopia and God bless you.
25 April 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Msgr. John E. Kozar Seminarians Ethiopian Catholic Church
In this 2006 image, Patriarch Paulos and bishops assemble under a giant fiscus tree to hear speeches during a celebration of the feast of Mary of Zion in Aksum. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Today was a most uplifting day for me, one filled with many wonderful experiences. Let me share some of them with you.
We began with an early morning visit to Holy Trinity Theological College, where we were warmly met by the rector, Abune Timotheos. He is a very affable, kind and soft-spoken holy man.
A little background about this college: Holy Trinity is the theological seminary of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. It serves the entire country, which includes more than 35 million Orthodox Christians, the largest faith community in Ethiopia. Over many years, CNEWA has reached out to this seminary with some assistance as an expression of ecumenical solidarity with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and as an outreach of our Holy Father. We have helped this seminary to improve the quality of its teaching and formation by supporting the graduate education of three faculty members who received their graduate degrees from the Catholic Pontifical Seminary in Bangalore, India. In doing so, the average seminarian, priest or deacon who attends this seminary is now better educated and prepared for his ministry.
The rector expressed profound thanks to all our CNEWA family for this loving sign of solidarity. The words of thanks were especially powerful as expressed by the three faculty members who received CNEWA scholarships. I am also impressed that the seminary in India, which is itself a huge mission territory, can now reach out and continue Pentecost by offering theological training and advanced degrees to our brothers in the Orthodox tradition.
We were given an extensive tour of this very humble seminary property. It had been taken over by the Communist government in the mid-1970’s and closed for about 20 years. The facilities were left in shambles and most of the classrooms, library, study rooms, etc., are still very old and run down. They were most happy to show us the “new” classrooms built by gifts from our CNEWA family. Excuse my pride, but I felt very honored and happy to find that our gifts had borne such wonderful fruits.
CNEWA has also sponsored a clerical training program for rural Orthodox priests. You must understand that many — if not most — rural Orthodox priests have not had any formal theological training. They are basically subsistence farmers. Their primary training before ordination (often at 19 years of age) is the memorization of chants in the Ethiopian liturgical language of Ge’ez in order to celebrate the Qedasse, the Eucharistic liturgy of the Ethiopian church. But as traditional agrarian Ethiopia develops and modernizes, and as its increasingly better-educated people leave their villages for the cities, many within the Ethiopian Orthodox community worry that its priests will no longer be relevant; ancient Ethiopian Orthodoxy is at a crossroads.
In the last 20 years or so, evangelical Protestants have grown quickly — and usually at the expense of the ancient Orthodox Church. Through your charity, and with the strong endorsement of the Catholic bishops in Ethiopia and the open arms of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, CNEWA has undertaken a program of building some very basic study centers in very rural areas of the country. These clergy training centers have bolstered, however humbly, the theological and scriptural education of thousands of Ethiopian clergy.
The results have been most encouraging. Throughout our visit at the seminary and later in the presence of the Ethiopian Orthodox patriarch, the topic of these clergy training centers was highlighted time and time again. You should all be very proud as our Orthodox brothers find fulfillment in their formal studies at the seminary and at these centers. In fact, in meeting many of the men at the seminary, they were most anxious to tell us that they are now pursuing a degree and perhaps even a graduate degree in theological or scriptural studies. Just a few years ago, this was not possible.
Our next visit took us to one of the major seminary residences housing seminarians from both the Latin and the Ge’ez Catholic rites in Ethiopia. Most of the Catholic seminarians live in one of three residences located within a stone’s throw of each other. This particular seminary residence, named for St. Ephrem, houses about 26 students. We arrived just in time for lunch. After lunch and few words from the rector and me, a group of ten seminarians performed a liturgical song and dance. A special feature of their dance was the chanting and dancing to the pulsating beat of a huge drum. They were delighted to share the rich heritage of their ethnic and tribal heritage. And better yet, they were a mix of both Ge’ez Catholic and Latin Catholics.
The rector, Father Ghirmay, was effusive in his thanks to all of us for CNEWA’s support of these residences. The Catholic bishops of all Ethiopia also thanked me yesterday for the great gift of sponsorship of these seminary facilities, which serve to address spirituality and formation of the seminarians. Each young man has a director (or rector), a spiritual director (or formator) and visiting professors who give in-house classes to complement the formal seminary curriculum at the Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology (which we will visit later).
Afterward, the rector and some of the seminarians took us on a tour of the facility. They were eager to show us everything, especially the chapel and the library. Here again, CNEWA has been instrumental in donating resource materials for their studies.
Our last stop of the day, in the late afternoon, was most notable. We were received by His Holiness, Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. This role places him as the supreme shepherd of more than 35 million souls in this country, plus a significant number of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living elsewhere.
The patriarch is quite a character. Entering the receiving room, resplendent with elegant furnishings, and seeing him seated on a throne, one expects that his manner would be quite formal and the visit very pro forma — quite the contrary. This man is full of wisdom and insight, but also very disarming with his humor. Out of the blue comes a quip or a jovial word. But make no mistake; this man is a first-class public relations expert and a high-power salesman. He is so good at promoting the church, I kidded him and told him some of the bishops in North America might want to hire him as a development consultant!
We had a delightful conversation and he obviously regards the solidarity with the Catholic Church as a precious gift. He especially holds Gerry Jones, our regional director in Ethiopia, in highest regard and made references to that relationship many times, sometimes in jest, but always with deep respect.
As I was bidding him goodbye and receiving his blessing, I offered him a heartfelt invitation to honor us with a visit to our office in New York. He received this invitation warmly.
It was a very good day, one filled with good stories and personal accounts of CNEWA being at its best: in reaching out to our Orthodox brothers and sisters, helping our Catholic seminarians be sustained in their spiritual lives and formation and in our expressions of solidarity with some very dedicated church leaders and those entrusted to their care.
Perhaps the most important expression of gratitude from our hosts — seminarians and their formators and teachers, patriarch and rectors — was the promise of remembering all of you, our CNEWA family, in their prayers. And I add my own prayers to theirs: Thank you and God bless you.
24 April 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Msgr. John E. Kozar Ethiopian Orthodox Church Seminarians
In this 1996 image, Ethiopian Catholic priests concelebrate the liturgy on the Feast of St. Michael at St. Michael's parish, near Addis Ababa. (photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
It is very early on Tuesday here in Addis Ababa. I’m eager to share with you yesterday's activities and to offer some insights on the life of the church in Ethiopia.
Yesterday began with an invitation from all the Catholic bishops of the country to meet with them while they gathered for a special weeklong workshop. They welcomed my observations, not only as the president of CNEWA but also as a brother priest. The metropolitan archbishop of Addis Ababa, Abune Berhaneyesus, offered profound thanks to CNEWA for accompanying the Ethiopian church for so many years on its missionary journey. This was really a very loving testimonial to all of you in our family for your many years of support for the poor and for the solidarity that we have demonstrated with the bishops of Ethiopia and to all the faithful.
I began my remarks by insisting that I am not an authority on anything theological or sociological or otherwise, and certainly not in reference to Ethiopia. I described my role with CNEWA as I have done oftentimes as being a parish priest from Pittsburgh, who loves the missions and is on loan to the world. They smiled and warmly invited me to continue.
I combined personal observations with the insights that some of them had personally shared with me during my visits of the past week or so, and also incorporated the considerations of many other diocesan priests, religious men and women, as well as lay leaders. Adding to this mix I also intertwined some of my experience as a parish priest and former vicar for clergy and former national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies.
The tone and substance of my remarks was very positive. As a brother priest, I offered them some practical suggestions and made some recommendations on how they might improve in certain areas, such as formation of their clergy; the ongoing formation of their clergy and laity; the leadership role of the episcopal conference; how they might address dialogue with men and women religious; and especially how they might better address the pastoral needs in their respective eparchies and in the country as a whole. They seemed to accept my presentation readily and expressed their determination in addressing the challenges facing the church in Ethiopia. I thanked them again for the honor of sharing with them and expressed CNEWA’s solidarity with all of them, stating that we will continue to journey with them as a church.
The challenges facing the Catholic Church in Ethiopia are unique. Let’s begin with the geography: Ethiopia is a huge country that seems much larger because of its poor road systems. It takes more than four days to drive from one tip to the other and these would be very wearying miles indeed. Without heavy-duty four-wheel-drive vehicles, it is impossible to navigate.
There are many ethnic, tribal and linguistic challenges and thus even communication is difficult at best in some areas of the country. Neighboring Ethiopia are countries that have suffered and continue to suffer from war, hunger, social injustice and political oppression. Ethiopia has herself experienced some great famines and an ugly war with Eritrea. Families have been cruelly separated from loved ones because they have been on the wrong side of a demarcation line.
Refugees arrive from bordering countries every day and bring further strain to the local economy. There is a constant reliance on global organizations for clothing, foodstuffs, water, medicines and other basics. The church is very involved in partnering with these agencies in bringing needed relief to the masses of people who are poor.
Ethiopia also has an interesting mix of rites: many of the dioceses are Latin and are called apostolic vicariates and other dioceses of the Ge’ez Catholic rite (which is Eastern) are called eparchies. Some of the bishops of one rite have actually grown up in the opposite rite. But generally, it seems to work. Most of the bishops and priests in many parts of the country are bi-ritual, and thus are comfortable in celebrating the liturgy well in either rite.
I also had a wonderful visit yesterday with our CNEWA family in Addis Ababa — that is, our staff. This group of very dedicated and dynamic workers welcomed me warmly. I took the opportunity to become better acquainted with them and to share with them how I value greatly not only their performance in the office, but their input in helping me to improve on the good works of CNEWA in Ethiopia. They very readily accepted this challenge as we journey together to discover more fully who we are, what we do and why we do it. We included in our visit a lovely lunch together at a local restaurant, a treat for them and also for me, as sharing a meal together is always the best way to heighten a visit.
Today, I have an audience with the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos. I look forward to this great honor, as this church leader is a most important figure in Ethiopia and in this part of the world. I will also be visiting the major seminary here, of which CNEWA is a significant supporter. Stay tuned for more of these visits in my next report. Until next time, be assured of my prayers and the prayers of the poor. May God continue to bless you all.
23 April 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Msgr. John E. Kozar Ethiopian Catholic Church
In this photo from 2010, Abba Groum leads a retreat for students at the Galilee Center
in Debre Zeit. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
I have just come from a wonderful dinner at the home of my host here in Ethiopia, Gerry Jones. His wife prepared a great meal for Thomas Varghese and me and we enjoyed our visit, sharing many of the impressions, observations and insights of my pastoral visits thus far in this beautiful country. Let me share with you, my CNEWA family, what I have been doing these past two days.
On Saturday, our first stop took us to the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home. It is truly an orphanage; most of the 130 resident children have no parents and are completely dependent on the care given there.
The director is Sister Lutgarda Camilleri of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, a Maltese national who has worked either at the orphanage or at the school next door for more than forty years. She is a dynamo: a combination of a grandmother that everyone would cherish and a religious sister who commands tremendous respect and can bring anyone to attention with a glance or a word of admonition. She also strikes me as a person with great savvy with the government authorities. You know the type: Give them a little grandmotherly charm and, if that does not work, look right into their eyes and tell them they are wrong. Case closed.
Sister Lutgarda and her crew of two other sisters, dedicated staff members and a rotating crew of volunteers provide amazing loving care to children as young as a few months and up to the age of 16. Many of those in her charge are street children brought here by police or child welfare officials. Sometimes, the officials show up at her doorstep with more than 20 at one time. Exasperated a little, but never overwhelmed, Sister Lutgarda welcomes them into the family.
CNEWA has been a long-time supporter of this institution and we should all feel proud of the good works done here. Her success rate, with some of the most challenging kids under her care, has been very good and many of her “graduates” have excelled in school and gone on to become productive citizens of Ethiopia. Some have even returned as professionals to offer their help to the sisters.
As a brief part of our visit to Ethiopia we also met Spiritan Father Brendan Cogavin from Ireland, who is the director of the school adjacent to Kidane Mehret. He once served as the assistant director of our CNEWA office in Addis Ababa when Brother Vincent Pelletier, F.S.C., served as director. Father Brendan is still very much a CNEWA man.
For lunch we had a most enjoyable and informative visit with Abba (Father) Isaias, the provincial superior of the Capuchin Fathers. He is a delightful man, very savvy and well spoken, young but very wise. I have heard his name mentioned many times as a real leader in the church in Ethiopia. I can see why he is highly regarded. His insights clarified some of my observations and validated others. The Capuchins are a major force in this country and are blessed with vocations.
We were happy to accept an invitation to enjoy dinner with the superior of the Jesuits, Abba Groum. Before our meal, he introduced us to a group of university students and recent graduates who work with him in campus ministry. They shared with us a sketch of the great work they do with Christian students studying in the many universities of Ethiopia. They are dynamic and very committed to sharing their faith with the young university population. Abba Groum is himself the chaplain of this ministry and is well known for his work with youth.
Needless to say, the meal was delightful and we had some great conversation with the other Jesuits in the house and a visiting Missionary of Africa from Ireland who has worked in this country for many years.
Today, we headed about one hour out of Addis Ababa to the Galilee Retreat Center located on a cliff overlooking a beautiful crater lake. The setting is idyllic and filled with peace. I was privileged to concelebrate Mass with the Jesuit who directs this center, Father Joseph Pollicino, S.J., a Maltese national who has worked here and in Sudan for many years. A special treat was to be in the presence of about 20 sisters who were finishing their weekend retreat. Mass was particularly stimulating with the devotion of the sisters, their lovely singing and the peaceful manner of Father Joe. Coupled with this ambience was the captivating rhythm of the drumbeats of the young sister who put her whole heart into her percussion instrument, a beautifully decorated native drum. People come from all over to seek the tranquility of this retreat center. Many different types of spiritual programs are offered for youth, for religious men and women, for priests, for bishops and lay groups and interreligious groups.
After Mass, we enjoyed a wonderful meal with Father Joe and all the sisters.
Tomorrow I will have a dialogue with all of the Catholic bishops of Ethiopia, participating in a special workshop attended by all of them. I look forward to this visit and will share details with you in my next report.
In the meantime, I offer you the thanks of the many poor in this country whose lives are greatly impacted by your prayers and your generous gifts. Everywhere I visit I am asked to extend to you the gratitude of all here. So thank you, CNEWA family. May God continue to bless all of you.
20 April 2012
Tags: Ethiopia Africa Msgr. John E. Kozar Orphans/Orphanages
A young mother at the Godano complex takes her child to work with her, selling sundries.
(photo: Asrat Habte Mariam)
Greetings again from Addis Ababa. This beautiful country continues to open up to me and I find the people, the history, the geography and especially the faith to be captivating.
We departed very early yesterday morning from Emdibir in the mountains and proceeded on a very exciting journey that would take us to Meki, about 3.5 hours away. Getting there was a little arduous, but filled with beauty and splendor. At one point we reached an altitude of 3,800 meters above sea level. The air was cold and the wind was whipping, but the view of the Great Rift Valley below was nothing short of spectacular. I am a geography buff and this site was candy for the eyes.
We arrived at Meki, much lower in elevation and in a totally different climate: hot, dusty and full of flies. Our first pastoral visit took us to the Meki Catholic School, run by the Christian Brothers, all Ethiopian nationals. Reputedly, this is the best school in this part of the country. Immediately after meeting the director, Brother Yohannes, F.S.C., it was obvious why the school enjoys such a reputation. Whenever Brother Yohannes put his head into a classroom or met a student along the campus walkways, there was immediate attention and respect.
CNEWA is proud to sponsor a number of very poor children in this lovely school. There are about 1,400 students here and the facility radiates an aura of serious academics, attention to personal development and a profound sense of dignity and worth of each individual. There is a complete mix of Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim students, and the brothers and faculty have really put together a great combination of excellence. It reminds me of good ole Central High School in Pittsburgh, where I was privileged to work with the Christian Brothers as a chaplain in the 70’s. We should all feel very proud of the help we provide to the students here.
After our visit at the school, we paid a courtesy visit to the offices of the general secretariat of the Apostolic Vicariate of Meki. We were hosted by the general secretary, Father Temesgan Kebede. He was most cordial in explaining to us the many social service programs of the local church. Next, we were greeted by the bishop, Abune Abraham Desta. He mentioned immediately that he is a friend of Timothy Cardinal Dolan. I shared with him that Cardinal Dolan only very recently asked me if I was going to visit him, so mission accomplished. He graciously hosted us, along with members of his staff, for a lovely lunch. The bishop personally shared with me some of the many challenges he is attempting to address. “Education,” he said, “is the church’s priority in Ethiopia.”
After lunch he took us on a walking tour of the current cathedral and, more importantly, the very large and modern cathedral under construction. We were overwhelmed by its size. Meki is a bustling market town that pulsates with people coming to buy produce, goats, sheep, cows and anything else for sale. By the way, goat herds are in evidence everywhere: on city streets, on the highways, the rough and tumble dusty or muddy country roads, even outside cathedrals, rectories, and the residence of bishops. And of course, goat meat is commonly eaten in raw form and “cooked.”
Today, we returned to Addis Ababa. It was a very intense day of visiting, very poignant and emotionally very moving. Our first visit was to an impoverished area of this sprawling city, where we visited Atse Tekle Ghiorgis School. Talk about serving the poorest of the poor: this is it. These children, about 750 of them, come from the most abject of poverty and receive a completely subsidized education, plus a meal to sustain them. The school is situated on a precipice and the sisters there have creatively built classrooms from old shipping containers. Sister Bedainesh is the current director and does a superb job of making all these children feel so special. Her smile is infectious and radiates with all the beautiful children.
How about this for the background of this CNEWA-supported school: Forty years ago, the children of lepers lived in the local cemetery, as no one would let them live near to them. Two lay people decided to confront this gross injustice and actually began this school. They sought the help of a professional educator, a nun from Australia, who would assist them in establishing this marvelous outreach to the despised poor children. Today, it is a jewel and we at CNEWA are blessed to be sponsors of the children here. I did my best to share the love of all of you for these precious little ones. “Let the children come to me.”
Round two was equally emotional and inspiring as we arrived at the Godano “complex.” Can you imagine an institution made of 25 shipping containers that are stacked three high and connected by a maze of walkways and stairways and even some trees growing in the passageways? So who resides here and what goes on here?
Godano, which has received support from CNEWA for years, was first begun to welcome unwed mothers, many of whom had been abandoned on the streets, others had been victims of rape. Founded and directed by a layman, Mulatu Tefesse, this loving home offers safe haven for not only these girls and their children after birth, but also for abandoned street children and unwanted babies. He also provides a kindergarten and skill training for girls, such as sewing and hair styling. The campus also includes housing for mothers and their children. He does not warehouse the mothers and their children, but always seeks to keep them together and to give them a modicum of confidence to move on to at least a minimally productive life.
Mulatu referred, at least five times, to an image of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as his “manager.” His faith is evident in everything he says and does, including showing us a mural of his dream, to begin a completely new facility about ten kilometers away. Not of his choosing, he is being forced to leave his shipping container “village” behind, as the government has claimed his property for eminent domain.
A little change of pace brought us to a fine overlook restaurant for a lunch visit with the auxiliary bishop of the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa, Abune Lisanne Christos. He is a very young bright leader in the church and we enjoyed a most enriching chat with him. I look forward to being together with him next week when I will meet with all the bishops of Ethiopia at a special workshop.
We all know the incredible work of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Well, magnify any previous visit you may have had to one of her institutions by a factor of five or so and you can appreciate the scope and size of the program at Sidist Kilo. It defies description as it is so large, so amazingly well organized, so clean and in such a loving environment.
There is care given to every kind of need, with special emphasis given to the poorest of the poor. Those who have open sores, those who come with pneumonia, tuberculosis, H.I.V./AIDS, those with mental and physical challenges and even the abandoned of any age — more than a thousand individuals all are welcomed here in the name of Jesus and are treated with the most tender loving care. There are 250 employees and the smiles abound. It was absolutely a treasured gift to have visited.
Sister Joanna Crucis took us on a “family” visit and her love for each individual was very obvious. She asked me to ask all of you to remember the sisters and the residents in your prayers. And we all know the power of the prayers of the poor, which were promised to us in return.
The final visit on this emotional roller coaster day of pastoral visits was most informative. We were greeted at the offices of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, in the person of its executive director, Brother Hugo Verhulat, who is a member of the Brothers of Good Works. In his leadership role with the religious from all of Ethiopia (some 64 different religious congregations of women and men), Brother Hugo illumined me on the realities of the church in Ethiopia today. There are many challenges and not just relative to financial needs. In fact, he emphasized the need for good pastoral planning and implementation so that Catholics in Ethiopia, strong in their loyalty to the church, might continue to be better formed in their faith. We offered our prayerful support to him and to all the religious in Ethiopia.
I am tired from these emotional visits today, but also feeling very privileged and blessed to represent all of you from our CNEWA family in these personal encounters with the poor. May God bless and keep them under the watchful hand of his son. And may God bless all of you.
19 April 2012
Students play outside of a Catholic school in Emdibir, Ethiopia. (photo: Gabriel Delmonaco)
Welcome to Ethiopia! Thank you for joining me on this pastoral visit, which includes Thomas Varghese of our New York office. This is my first visit, so we will all be seeing Ethiopia through the eyes of a first-timer.
After a late night arrival in Addis Ababa, a very warm welcome by our host for the entire pastoral visit — Gerry Jones, who directs our office here — and a brief sleep, we scheduled our first visits with the Catholic archbishop of Addis Ababa and the papal nuncio. Our thought was that these visits would be a sort of tutorial on the realities of the church in Ethiopia. It turned out to be a most worthwhile 101 course on the Ethiopian people, their history and the political challenges that confront the church here.
Metropolitan Archbishop Berhaneyesus D. Souraphiel, C.M., who leads the Ge’ez Catholic Church, is a most engaging figure. He offered a wonderful introduction into the Ethiopian landscape and how this Catholic Eastern church navigates as a very small minority player. Out of a population of more than 80 million, the Catholic Church represents only 0.75 percent of the population. Of this small number of about 600,000 faithful, Ge’ez Catholics in Ethiopia number only about a 100,000 people and are scattered in three eparchies — most Catholics live in the south of the country and utilize the Latin rite. (Some 153,000 Ge’ez Catholics live in Eritrea, Ethiopia’s neighbor to the north.)
Historically, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (the rites and traditions of which are shared with Ge’ez Catholics) accounts for about half of the Ethiopian population. But evangelical Protestants are making significant inroads among Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians; their numbers have tripled in the last 15 years and now account for about 17 percent of the population. Muslims make up about a 30 percent. So, the Catholic Church here is extremely small.
But what the Catholic Church lacks in numbers it more than makes up in terms of social service outreach. Hundreds of Catholic schools — which are open to Catholic, Orthodox and Muslims students — are found everywhere and contribute greatly to the moral fiber and educational achievements of this great country. Although the Catholic Church (Latin and Ge’ez) is not formally recognized by the government as a religious entity, it nonetheless receives great respect at every level. The government has donated land to the church to open schools, clinics and hospitals, and contributes to the salaries of teachers.
A second phase of my tutorial on realities confronting the life of the church in Ethiopia took us to the apostolic nunciature for a lovely visit with the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop George Panikulam. The nuncio is a very amiable gentleman, who is known for his openness and honesty. He shared with us some very interesting insights and never dodged any of the many questions I posed to him. And the best part of the visit was a delightful meal, in part prepared by him. I later heard that he regularly invites guests for dinner, which he personally prepares.
Before we headed out to the rural parts of the country, we visited the offices of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, where the secretary general, Abba (Father) Hagos Hayish, O.F.M. Cap., warmly greeted us and introduced us to many of his collaborators. This body represents the seven Latin vicariates — or prefectures apostolic — and the three Ge’ez Catholic eparchies in the country, and works with the bishops in effecting pastoral and social development programs.
We drove about three hours to the village of Welkite, where we were warmly welcomed by the bishop of the Ge’ez Catholic Eparchy of Emdibir, Abune Musie Ghebreghiorghis, O.F.M., Cap. Along with Abba Teshome Fikre, the eparchy’s secretary general and our guide in travel there, the bishop first showed us the new parish church now under construction. Also welcoming us were members of the parish committee who proudly took us on a tour.
Before arriving in Emdibir, we made a side visit to the Attat Hospital, which is located in the middle of nowhere. If not for the international team of sisters who staff the facility, there would be no healthcare available for the folks who receive treatment there. They come on donkey, carried on horseback, some in dilapidated public transport vehicles — but they come in great numbers to this refuge, where they receive attentive care. The sisters present a most loving image of Christ to all who come.
After a very long day, and in full darkness, we arrived at the diocesan guest house, which also seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. But, it turned out to be a most welcoming site for a nourishing meal and a restful night of sleep. As a surprise, the good bishop had invited all the diocesan clergy (19 in all) and two foreign religious priests to join us for a lovely dinner and some exchange about the eparchy of Emdibir, which was only established in 2003. I was much taken that all the priests were on hand for this most fraternal sharing.
My first exposure to the rich Ge’ez Rite would come at an early morning Divine Liturgy the following morning at St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral. The bishop and most of the eparchy’s priests concelebrated the ancient liturgy. I was taken aback by the beauty of the liturgy, the amazing intricacy of the chanting, not just of the bishop and the priests, but all the many faithful who had assembled as well. The cathedral had a large of number of people for this ordinary weekday eucharistic liturgy, celebrated at 6:20 a.m. All of the faithful are farmers and some regularly walk great distances to attend.
Another impressive aspect of the cathedral is the outstanding paintings that adorn most of the walls. These are works of art in progress, as the bishop has commissioned an 80-year-old Orthodox priest-iconographer to paint the cathedral murals. After four years of labor, I would say this venerable priest is about 80 percent finished. He lives with the bishop and two other Catholic priests assigned there, together sharing their lives, meals and prayers. I had the honor to meet this outstanding artist and thanked him for his great gift.
Our next visit took us to the Meganese Catholic School, directed by the Capuchin Fathers. Talk about a welcome! Some 1,000 children encircled us, chanting happily and raising high their palm branches. Even the bishop was startled at this reception. The children were so warm and welcoming and responded to my every word and gesture.
The very large campus also includes a health clinic, agricultural components and other programs. We were accompanied by members of the parents association and community elders. Their enthusiasm for the school is obvious and they work hand in hand with the Capuchin Fathers on its administration.
I very much enjoyed the visit to the health clinic, which is immaculately clean and a reflection of the good order and management of the two European sisters who staff it. They are particularly proud of their birthing suite and hope someday to be able to perform simple surgeries at this facility. They are also very happy about recently purchasing a brand-spanking-new ambulance that will especially help them attend to the needs of women in labor.
Our next stop took us to Bhurat and a visit to the Bhurat Catholic School. Here, too, we were warmly and wildly greeted by the students, complete with welcoming signs with the name of CNEWA prominently featured and displayed on poles and carried on banners. Our first point of business was to “cut the ribbon” for an extension wing built on to the existing school, a gift from a most generous CNEWA donor. It was a special honor for me to inaugurate this new wing.
The real feature of our visit was a formal program, complete with an elevated stage set up outdoors with a large stand of huge trees as a backdrop. Hundreds of parents, community elders and, of course, children, were all in attendance and offered their expressions of thanks to CNEWA. Even some government officials honored us with their presence.
We were entertained by singers, dancers, acrobats and speakers who included the school administrator, the school director (a Capuchin father), a representative from the elders of the community and the bishop. The program also included the presentation of some special gifts to each of us, including Thomas and Gerry. What impressed me most was the wonderful level of collaboration with school parents (Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics), community elders representing a large number of rural communities and government education officials who gave public testimony to the immense benefit of Catholic schools in this area. The bishop gave some beautiful remarks that reminded all that it is only God who has made and continues to make all of this possible. What a profound summary of how the church invites everyone to come to know the goodness of God, no matter what faith tradition we espouse.
Another very inspiring experience on this day was a brief visit to a class being given to catechists, as part of their continuing education and formation program. And to me an amazing part of their story is that each of them has been chosen for this most important role by their respective communities. They must be men and women of great faith, willing to share their faith with others as catechists.
The big campus at Bhurat also includes a health clinic. Two sisters from India run it and do a superb job in offering first-rate healthcare in an environment of loving kindness. We ended our visit with a marvelous meal, which included the ritual roasting of coffee beans and serving of rich Ethiopian coffee. With us for the entire visit to this site were the elders, almost serving as our security team and “honor guard.” In fact, the honor was all ours.
At the end of this very full and tiring day, the bishop had yet another surprise for us: a barbecue, Ethiopian style, in front of his residence. It was a delightful meal with many tasty dishes and the camaraderie of the bishop and a number of his diocesan priests. We said our goodbyes to all, as we would be departing very early in the morning for Meki, more than three hours away — if the rains do not play havoc with the roads.
Your ears should be ringing as so many of your family friends here extend their loving best wishes and thanks to you, the CNEWA family. God bless all of you. As one of the community elders said to me as he hugged me and wished me farewell: “I love you and all the people of America.”
Tags: Ethiopia Education Msgr. John E. Kozar Ethiopian Orthodox Church Ethiopian Catholic Church