21 January 2016
Vocations to religious life in Eritrea’s new Catholic Church enable it to educate, heal and care for its people. (photo: CNEWA)
Eritrea’s cultural roots run deep: Some 3,000 years ago, Semitic peoples from the Arabian Peninsula crossed the Red Sea and settled in the Horn of Africa. The successive cultures and empires they created — such as the Aksumite and the Abyssinian — are an inheritance Eritreans share with their symbiotic neighbors to the south, Ethiopians.
Eritreans and Ethiopians share many elements of a common history and culture, including the Christian faith and how it is expressed culturally. The vast majority of Christians in both countries share in the ancient traditions of the church as first developed in Alexandria, Egypt, and nurtured over the centuries in Abyssinia by monks and scribes and emperors. Employing the Ge’ez language, steeped in the traditions of the early church, and faithful to indigenous narratives as bulwarks against the influence of European Christianity, Eritrean and Ethiopian Christians are, for the most part, members of the Oriental Orthodox family of churches, which also includes the Armenian Apostolic, Coptic and Syriac Orthodox churches.
Catholics are few, but they make up a disproportionately influential community in both countries. Until a year ago, they formed one church, centered in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa with jurisdictions in Eritrea and Ethiopia celebrating the sacraments in both the Ge’ez and Latin rites. However, last January, the bishop of Rome, Francis, erected a new Catholic Eastern church centered in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
The Eritrean Catholic Church is now a sui iuris (meaning “of its own right”) metropolitan church and is subject directly to the Holy See. The seat of the metropolitan archbishop is Asmara and includes the eparchies of Barentu, Keren and Seghenity, all of which utilize the ancient Ge’ez rites and traditions, although a few communities continue to use the Latin rite.
Metropolitan Archbishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam, M.C.C.J., leads an estimated 160,000 Eritrean Catholics, and includes a large number of men and women religious who administrate schools, child care facilities and other social service initiatives.
This concludes CNEWA’s series of summaries of the Eastern churches — which may be accessed always from the icon on the blog homepage titled, “Spotlight on the Eastern Churches.” We hope you found this series, which includes links to the more detailed series written for ONE magazine, useful and enlightening.
Tags: Eastern Churches Eritrea Eastern Catholic Churches Eritrean Catholic Church