Early this week we were hit by the news, via a message from Sr. Françoise Petit , Superioress General of the Daughters of Charity to all sisters regarding a group of Ethiopian Daughters of Charity arrested by government forces in Ethiopia in the midst of the humanitarian and political crisis there. We assume most of you welcome the announcement of their release with great joy, but at the same time almost nobody was aware of what happened at all. Why? Because you can’t find any news in mainstream international media on what happened to them. We heard it happened at the end of last year. We do not know details.
WHAT HAPPENED IN ETHIOPIA?
According to the report by Fides News Agency, an Ursuline sister, five sisters of the Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and two deacons were arrested on November 30, 2021. According to observers, the fact that the arrested nuns are of Tigrayan origin could be part of a campaign led by government forces against the Tigrayans, accused of aiding and supporting the rebels of the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front). Reached by Fides, Mother Raffaella Pedrini, Superioress General of the Ursulines of Gandino, confirmed that the Ethiopian police forces, on November 30 last year, organized a blitz aimed at Catholic nuns and religious, taking, one Ursuline sister and five Daughters of Charity. Their superiors were very worried about their fate since the arrest. They had had no news and no one completely did not understand the reason for such an act.
No news, until this Monday, when Sisters of the D.C. Province of Ecuador shared a meme in facebook informing of the development of the situation and sharing the message from Sr. Françoise. We read in it:
Dear Sisters,Today, we can give thanks to the Lord! All our Sisters have been released: Sister Letemariam [Sibhat], Sister Abeba T.[Tesfay], Sister Tiblets [Teum], Sister Abeba H. [Hagos] and Sister Abeba F. [Fitwi].Sister Hiwot (the Visitatrix) was able to speak with them. Of course, they are tired but happy.Now, they are going to rest for a few days before resume the mission that awaits them!The Province of Ethiopia would like to thank all the Provinces and Communities who have prayed for them all the time and now we can sing the Magnificat, Hallelujah!Our joy cannot make us forget that others are also waiting for their liberation, in Ethiopia and in other countries. We can commend them in prayer.They are also our brothers and sisters.Let us remain fraternally united in Christ.Sister Françoise PetitDaughter of Charity
According to Agenzia Fides, the only news service reporting on the situation, on the afternoon of Sunday, January 16, an Ursuline sister and five Daughters of Charity were released and returned to their communities. They had been arrested in Addis Ababa on November 30 by government police forces. No news of the release of two deacons arrested with the sister on that day.
According to Fides the release came at a time of possible change of scenery in the great country of the Horn of Africa, immersed for 14 months in a terrible war that began in the Tigray region and has spread to other areas. Since the days before Christmas, there have been timid signs of a partial cessation of hostilities and brutalities. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire and unconditional withdrawal from the Amhara and Afar regions at the end of 2021.
In his Christmas message issued on January 6, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, C.M. of Addis Ababa the head of the Ethiopian Bishops’ Conference asked the faithful to ask God for the gift of forgiveness and peace in the country, where civil war has recently entered its second year. As Ethiopia continues to face war resulting in a serious humanitarian crisis Cardinal has urged Ethiopians to shun pride, anger and hatred that hinder peace in the country. In his Message for Christmas, which the Oriental Churches celebrated on January 7, the head of the Ethiopian Catholic Church called on all the faithful to avoid evil and to ask God for “the gift of forgiveness and peace” through prayer: “We persevere in prayer because peace and happiness are found in prayer. When we do, we fear God and turn away from all evil. We are all a family”, he said.
96 YEARS IN SERVICE OF THE PEOPLE OF ETHIOPIA
The history of the Daughters of Charity in Ethiopia starts in 1927. Today, 67 sisters live in 14 Houses located in 7 Regions of Ethiopia. Their mission is to share God’s love with all members of our community, irrespective of their religious beliefs. They continue to serve people who are poor and marginalized with humility, simplicity, and charity. They are committed to reaching and empowering those who are the most abandoned and marginalized by addressing needs of food, water, sanitation and shelter; and through sustaining works including healthcare, HIV/AIDS, education and more.
Their services fall under five main categories: Health, Education, Community Development, Social Work and Pastoral Care. We provide primary health care clinics in a number of locations, outreach health stations and specialized eye and HIV/ AIDS Clinics. Sisters provide and run education facilities ranging from crèches and kindergartens through primary and secondary schools. In addition, they run a third level Montessori Teacher Training Institute. The Community Development work focuses on women’s development, youth empowerment, street children, leprosy community and income generation activities. The Social Work includes supporting the elderly, single mothers, orphans, people with disabilities, marriage counseling. The Pastoral Care work involves parish youth, Catechism and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
ONCE A PROSPEROUS COUNTRY NOW IN DEEP HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
The current war in northern Ethiopia erupted on November 4, 2020, following an attack against federal military bases by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Tigray is a province in the north of the country at border with Eritrea where political and social crisis continues, too.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promised a swift victory, but the fighting has escalated into a widespread conflict involving ethnic-based militias as well as Eritrean armed forces. Over 2 million people have been displaced as a result of the civil war and famine has been officially declared in the region.
Ethiopia is a multilingual country with more than 80 ethnic groups and a population estimated in 2020 at 114 million inhabitants. The country was until recently a factor of regional stability in the midst of countries at war or in crisis: the two Sudan in the west, Eritrea in the north and Somalia in the southeast. It is the second largest contributor of troops to the United Nations. This stability made Ethiopia the second largest country hosting refugees in Africa. At the beginning of 2020, it was hosting over 735,000 refugees, of which 100,000 had arrived in 2019. 99% of the refugees come from the four neighboring countries: South Sudan (329,000), Somalia (191,600), Eritrea (139,300) and Sudan (42,300). Based on the 2007 census, Christians represent 62.8% of the population (43.5% Orthodox, 18.6% Evangelical and 0.7% Catholic). Muslims, mostly Sunni, represent 33.9% of the population.
Many accounts of abuses committed against civilians have been reported by survivors and relayed by several NGOs. The survivors report in particular massacres of civilians and ecclesiastics, numerous rapes, as well as looting and damage to holy places. According to most of the testimonies, these abuses were committed by Eritrean soldiers and federal Ethiopian forces. In Irob Woreda (northern Tigray), reliable sources report that many civilians of the Irob ethnic group, who are mostly Catholics, were executed by Eritrean forces, and that people fled into the mountains to save their lives.
The Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of Addigrat also reports extensive looting and damage to public and private buildings by the Ethiopian Federal Government and Eritrean forces. Buildings owned by the Eparchy, such as the priests’ residence, St Mary’s Agricultural University in Wuqro, the clinic and the school in Edaga Hamus were damaged and completely looted.
more to read about the situation in Ethiopia: