THE MISSIONARIES OF AFRICA
When in 1961 the Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of Adigrat in Tigray/Northern Ethiopia was restored, the newly appointed Eparch (Bishop) Abune Hailemariam Kehsay remembered a visit to Jerusalem a few years earlier. There in the seminary of St.Anne he had met European missionaries who were training Eastern Catholic priests of the Melchite Rite. These missionaries, White Fathers as they were called at that time, did not try to impose a Western, Roman Liturgy on the Melchite Christians. They respected the Oriental liturgy and culture of the Christians of the Middle East. Ethiopia has had a painful history of some Catholic missionaries trying to impose a Western, Roman way of praying.
Headquarters of the Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat
Not only the Orthodox majority of Christians in Ethiopia were offended, but also many Catholic Ethiopians. Eparch Hailemariam wanted to make sure that he would get helpers to train his future priests in the ancient traditional rites of Ethiopia. He went to then Pope Paul VI and asked him to send Missionaries of Africa to start and develop his Diocesan Major Seminary. Pope Paul gave him a handwritten letter to the Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa.
Dr. Dietmar Lenfers M.Afr., teacher of philosophy, in front of the Major Seminary of Adigrat.
In 1967 the first White Fathers arrived in Adigrat in order to build a seminary and instruct the Ethiopian seminarians. They first learned the local language Tigrinya, and even acquired some knowledge of the ancient liturgical language Ge'ez. Until today Missionaries of Africa are involved in training priests for the Eparchy of Adigrat according to their local culture and tradition.
The spirit of love for the culture of Ethiopia is alive among the Missionaries of Africa who live and work in this country today. The newly built Catholic Church in Wukro is a jewel of Ethiopian tradition, architecture and art.
clik to enlarge. See the blessing of this new chruch
On my recent visit to Ethiopia I spent some time in Wukro, which has become the centre of the activities of the Missionaries of Africa in Ethiopia. The youngest of them is Aloysius Beebwa from Uganda. I asked him: "Why have you come to Tigray in Ethiopia as a missionary? After all nearly all the people in your area are Christians of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church." His answer was: "We are not here to "convert" the Orthodox, but we want to be a bridge between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. Neither Church can remain an island by itself. There has been a painful history of mutual disrespect, even persecution. We hope that our presence here and our contacts with the Ethiopian Christians will contribute to a brotherly relationship between Orthodox and Catholic Christians. Moreover, as Christians, we are sent to practise the love of Christ; we want to be at the service of the people of this country."
Surroundings of Adigrat
The Missionaries of Africa are a small number in Tigray. (They are six) All the same they have made a great effort to serve people who are often living in great poverty and who have many spiritual and material needs. The beautiful Catholic Church in Wukro is not the first building the Missionaries of Africa built there. A School of Commerce and Agriculture helps the youth in this impoverished area to learn skills that will enable them to have a better life in the future. In a country that often has poor soil and
insufficient rainfall, grains that produce a higher yield are developed in the agricultural section of the school. Cattle that produce more meat and more milk and yet remain resistant to local diseases are bred, and a tree nursery wants to contribute to the planting of trees in a country that is largely deforested
Tree nursery at agricultural Shool in Wukro
see also the consecration of
the new church St Mary in Wukro