From ONE Magazine

A Letter From Ethiopia

My name is Abba [Father] Teshome Fikre Woldetensae, a priest from the Eparchy of Emdibir in central Ethiopia. Currently I am serving the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia as the deputy general secretary and as director of the conference’s national pastoral commission.

Being a priest in Ethiopia has tremendous responsibilities. The church strives to transform and save souls, and works for integral human development for the common good of all. Right now, the formation of young people and of our society is our primary challenge. Attitudes are changing very quickly; secular postures and outlooks are growing in our traditionally religious nation. We are experiencing a particular crisis in families and in the life of young people. Lack of job opportunities, extreme poverty and migration are serious challenges facing young people and families.

Personally, my greatest challenge is helping to form young people to believe in themselves, to believe in their families, in the society and in the nation so they may see a future in their own country.

I was fortunate in that I received solid formation in my faith and in my values. My father was nurtured in the Catholic Church and was a teacher. My mother was from an Orthodox family, and was received into full communion with the Catholic Church when she married my father. My childhood was very much attached to our parish. Priests were always welcomed and my mother was happy to cook for them whenever they passed by the village to visit other families and the sick.

Abba Fran├žois Markos (1910-1989), a very saintly priest who established most of the existing parishes in the present Eparchy of Emdibir, was a great influence on my childhood. He was a father to all, an inspiration to everyone. I always desired to be like him — to nurture children in the faith; to spread the word of God; to serve the poor, sick and elderly; and to establish schools and health care institutions for serving needy people. His ministry served all humanity, irrespective of religious, social or economic background. In this way, Abba Markos planted the seed of vocation in my childhood heart. I always strived to reach to that goal.

I attended the minor seminary in the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa, entering when I was 14, and studied under the Canadian Jesuits. I continued my studies in philosophy and theology and was ordained in 1998. In those years of priestly formation, the CNEWA family accompanied me and helped see to my material needs. The support I received from was another source of inspiration.

Since my ordination, I continue to learn — from my pastoral work as a parish priest and pursuing advanced studies in Rome to learning from example from my elders and working with youth groups. Each of these experiences have shaped my ministry and taught me the wide variety of needs of the church, enriching what began as a simple desire to follow the example of Abba Markos.

It gives me satisfaction that my priestly service has influenced many. I remember with great joy the visit I made when I was a parish priest to an old lady who was gravely ill, who used to live very far from the parish — a three-hour mule ride. It was a very rainy season and access to the village was very difficult. The village catechist and I covered most of the road on foot, since it was difficult to ride on mule. She was not expecting us, due to the weather. When we arrived, she could not believe it; she shouted with joy and felt relieved from her sickness for a time. The joy of that woman, in her final days of her earthly life, was exceptional for me and it touched me deeply.

I also think often about young Bedilu. He was 12 when I met him, living with his mother, Kelemua. Bedilu was born with a degenerative condition. He could not talk, and while he could stand and walk in his younger years, he eventually became bedridden. One day Kelemua came to me from her faraway village and asked me to go with her to visit her beloved son. I asked why, and she cried and cried.

Together, she and I went by car and entered the house where Bedilu was living. Seeing him and the place they lived — a small hut — broke my heart and I could not stop crying. I was very much impressed by the dedication and joy of Kelemua for serving her child.

I gave her what money I had, promising to support her and her son. I immediately wrote a letter to one of my friends in Italy explaining the situation, and before long I received funds to build a decent house for them. We bought a proper bed and other household goods — even a cow, for milk. Within a few months, the life situation of the family changed. Although doctors informed us that his condition could not be reversed, and only palliative care was possible, Bedilu and Kelemua had a greatly improved quality of life for years.

When he died, it was devastating for all of us who were involved in his life. His mother’s heart was broken, and we accompanied her in her grief. Kelemua’s strength and courage will remain with me forever.

These days, after morning prayers and the liturgy, my daily routine is mostly office work. We organize formation programs for laity, youth, couples, priests and religious men and women. I meet different people in my workplace and in society and I try my best to reflect on the values I have cultivated.

My role at the national office is to plan all pastoral formation — which has opened a very demanding chapter in my life. As the majority population of Ethiopia is very young, so is the majority of Catholic faithful. These young Catholics need solid faith formation that can help them tackle contemporary challenges.

In order to respond to the growing pastoral needs of the local church, we need to build the capacity of priests, men and women religious and lay faithful. It is especially important to involve lay people in the ministry of the church; the faith is transmitted through their life testimonies, by walking together hand in hand with all those who are involved in the mission of the church. With the consent of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia, we implement programs to promote such formation. This is our day-to-day commitment in realizing the pastoral mission of the church in Ethiopia, working with the limited resources at our disposal.

At this juncture, on behalf of the local church, I would like to express my sincere gratitude. From the seminary to my higher studies, CNEWA has accompanied me on my journey. When I took up leadership responsibilities in my eparchy, CNEWA supported many initiatives — including educational programs that continue to enrich the lives of rural children. When I assumed responsibility at a national level, I once again found in CNEWA a timely collaborator.

CNEWA is an important partner for us, accompanying us in our evangelizing journey as a church to transmit the faith and to sustain Catholics in the faith. Your prayer and your financial support are very meaningful for Catholics in general, and priests in particular, in Ethiopia.

Prayer sustains my priestly life, and I always keep in my prayers the CNEWA family, who personally accompanied me as a seminarian and now in my priestly ministry, wherever the church sends me to serve.