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Ethiopia

Excerpts from the report of a May field visit to Ethiopia by Catholic Near East Welfare Association staff.

photos by Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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Ethiopian Christianity. Christianity reached Ethiopia very early, probably in New Testament times. Large scale conversions of the people and the king himself took place in the 4th century. Monasticism became widespread, and the monasteries came to serve as centers of learning.

Christianity was the state religion in Ethiopia until the Marxist revolution of 1974. Now church and state are officially separated.

Most Ethiopian Christians are Orthodox. Today the Ethiopian Orthodox Church numbers over 20,000,000 members. It is suspicious of the Catholic Church and sometimes hostile, since the conversion attempts of the Portuguese Jesuits in the sixteenth century and the establishment in the nineteenth century of European Catholic missionary jurisdictions and later, of a Catholic Ethiopian rite. On the other hand, it is very grateful for the massive humanitarian assistance received in recent years from Catholic and other Christian sources.

Sheer numbers dictate that the support and advancement of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are vital to the preservation of Christianity in Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian Catholic Church. For historical reasons, the Catholic Church in Ethiopia is divided into two rites: the Ethiopian rite, which is similiar in its traditions to the Orthodox Church, and the Latin or Western rite.

The ancient Christian area of Ethiopia, the northern and central part of the country, follows the Ethiopian rite. It is divided into four ecclesiastical jurisdictions: the three Ethiopian rite eparchies of Addis Ababa, Adigrat, and Asmara and the Latin rite apostolic vicariate of Asmara.

The south, originally more animist than Christian, predominantly follows the Latin rite. It is divided into five ecclesiastical jurisdictions: the four apostolic vicariates of Awasa, Harar, Nekemte, and Soddo-Hosanna, and the apostolic prefecture of Meki.

As the sees held by European ordinaries are vacated, they are being replaced with Ethiopians, regardless of rite. In some areas there is a gradual adoption of Ethiopian rite customs in the Latin rite, and there is an increasing use of the vernacular in the place of the ancient liturgical language of Geez in many Ethiopian rite areas.

Seminaries. The Church in Ethiopia is blessed with an abundance of vocations, and the quality of formation being offered to candidates is impressive. Although some religious orders accept candidates at a very early age, most begin their formation at the secondary level.

The priests responsible for theological formation are very impressive. Their enthusiasm, zeal, professional expertise, and vision are striking. Personal conversations with major seminarians reveal them to be mature, confident, and well-motivated.

Although the common medium of instruction is English, often seminarians’ conversational English skills are weak.

The residential, inter-diocesan seminary of Addis Ababa was recently enlarged, but because of the large number of candidates it is very over-crowded. Another wing for the building is sorely needed, and generally it is in need of furnishings and equipment.

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Tags: Ethiopia Ethiopian Orthodox Church Vocations (religious) Ethiopian Catholic Church