Ethiopia – an eye opener

Ethiopia - an eye opener

What is really happening in the Tigray region of Ethiopia? Before November 2020, nine Missionaries of Africa confreres were working there. Today, they are only two left. Paul Reilly, recently appointed for studies in Rome, accepted to contact Jose Bandres, M.Afr., and together with him, they give us some pointers to better understand the situation.  Assessing the crisis as insiders can be tricky, but their aim is only to inform us better, not to expand their political views. (Webmaster)

On 3rd September 2021, Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin of the diocese of Adigrat (which comprises the entire region of Tigray) released a letter to all interested parties. In it he gives a brief overview of the current situation in his diocese in which millions are experiencing dramatic food shortages and pleads for help and prayers to bring the war and suffering of the innocent people of Tigray to a peaceful conclusion.

To better understand what has been happening in northern Ethiopia over the past few months, we provide a brief context to the outbreak of war and the severe famine currently underway in Tigray.

Social and political background: In the last 35 years, Ethiopia has suffered five different wars and two devastating famines.

Some important dates:

1974 – Emperor Haile Selassie overthrown in a military coup after his government fails to deal with famine. Mengistu Hailemariam becomes head of a military junta.

1977-79 – The Tigrayan guerrilla movement appears in Tigray.

1984-85Another serious famine devastates much of the country.

1991 – Lead by Meles Zenawi, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) deposes Mengistu Hailemariam after 17 years of guerrilla warfare and forms with other ethnic groups the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). A period of prosperity and stability is established and during his 21-year authoritarian rule considerable economic progress is achieved.

1993 – Eritrea becomes independent through a referendum process.

1994 – New constitution establishes Ethiopia as a federation covering the 7 ethnically based regions. Meles Zenawi officially assumes the post of Prime Minister.

1998-2000 – Ethiopian-Eritrean border war with big human loses on both sides.

2018 – Abiy Ahmed, an ethnic Oromo, becomes Prime Minister and launches a comprehensive programme of political reform at home and diplomatic bridge-building abroad. The government releases thousands of political prisoners, invites exiles to return home, promises greater freedom of expression, privatization of the press as well other important sectors of the economy, specifically telecommunications. Abroad, he negotiates an end to the state of war with Eritrea thereby earning the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2019. As part of the package of his political reforms, he dissolves the ethnically based regional parties making up the EPRDF and creates a new national “Prosperity Party” (PP). The TPLF refuses to join the PP, withdraws from the governing coalition, and takes up the mantle of the principal opposition party. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, PM Abiy announces the postponement of federal elections due in principle for the summer of 2020. The TPLF reject the reason for the election delay, claiming that PM Abiy is using the pandemic as an excuse to have more time for campaigning and to grow support for his Prosperity Party.

2020 September- November: The TPLF, against the decision of the federal government, organizes elections on 9 September within the region of Tigray and wins. Bellicose rhetoric heats up on both sides and eventually leads to the outbreak of hostilities on 4 November, when the TPLF attack and occupy the northern military command located in the Tigrayan provincial capital Mekelle as well as other federal military bases throughout the region. PM Abiy Ahmed responds in kind, calling upon three different military forces: the federal army of Ethiopia, regional militias from neighbouring Amhara state, and the invading forces of the dictator Isaias Afwerki, President of Eritrea.

Of course, as in all wars, those who suffer the most are the innocents. Since the outbreak of hostilities in early November 2020, thousands of individuals have been killed, women raped, children made orphans, harvests ruined, villages burned to the ground, families separated and displaced, hospitals, clinics, factories, educational institutions looted and destroyed. Due to the constant insecurity, normal life has become impossible. Those with jobs cannot work, students cannot study, farmers cannot plant crops. Millions of people have been displaced, either escaping to Sudan or moving within Tigray. Day by day food became more and more scarce and prices skyrocketing. All private banks have closed, and the government bank only allows limited withdrawals. Even Médecins sans frontières had to withdraw from the territory for lack of security when three of their members were killed in late June 2021.

June 2021 – After a series of military setbacks, the federal government declared a unilateral ceasefire according to which the federal military, Eritrean forces, and Amhara militias, withdrew from the capital Mekelle and from most of the territory of Tigray. The move became very soon openly a tactic to asphyxiate the population through hunger and disease, with a total lockout of the region. (No flights, no banks, no telephone, no internet, no medicines and practically no food coming in).

Desperate current situation:

In June 2021 according to Mark Lowcock, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, after the release of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, “The number of people in famine conditions in Tigray… is higher than anywhere in the world, at any moment since a quarter million Somalis lost their lives in 2011.” His statement – at a roundtable discussion ahead of the G7 summit – described the situation then, on the authoritative assessment of the crisis by the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). In a report, it estimated that 353,000 people in Tigray were in phase 5 (catastrophe) and a further 1.769 million were in phase 4 (emergency).

That was three months ago. Now the situation is a hundred times worse. According to reliable sources – La Croix 12 August – already in mid-August 5.3 million people were in need of food, and 400,000 were suffering severe famine. That is why on 3 September the Bishop of Adigrat, Msgr. Tesfaselassie Medhin, in a desperate move, tries with his letter to alert any authority in the world to act strongly politically, to stop such a genocide, to start cease-fire conversations through mediators, and to open up the frontier to bring in food and medicines.

As far as we know, only US President Joe Biden has signed an executive order to implement targeted sanctions against individuals and groups perpetrating violence and impeding humanitarian aid in Ethiopia. However, no individuals or entities were specifically named.

Prior to the outbreak of the war in November 2020, the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) had nine confreres working in the region of Tigray. At present, only two remain. Please keep them, all the priests and religious of the Eparchy of Adigrat, and the innocent people of Tigray in your prayers. And above all, let us pray for an urgent return of peace to Ethiopia!

Jose Bandres & Paul J. Reilly

Abune Tesfaselassie Medhin, Bishop of Catholic Eparchy Adigrat, with priest & MAfr
Ethiopia Adigrat-Tigray Catholic Eparchy

Birthday of Our Lady in Jerusalem

8 September : Birthday of Our Lady in Jerusalem

The Proto-Gospel of James (2nd century) indicates the birth of the Virgin Mary in the vicinity of the Temple; and pilgrims from the 5th century onwards visited the church of the paralytic and “Saint Mary where she was born” at the probatic pool.

This church, destroyed before the arrival of the Crusaders, was built on the present site of Saint Anne’s, with a large monastery, provided with royal revenues, where AUDE, wife of King BEAUDOUIN I, and Judith, daughter of BEAUDOUIN II and sister of Queen MELISANDRE, ended their lives.

In 1192, as an Arabic inscription on the tympanum of the main door indicates, the church was transformed by Saladin into a Shiafi’i college; hence the name Salahiye.

During the Muslim occupation, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land used every means to gain access to the crypt from time to time to pray with their pilgrims. They could only enter by descending through a window that can still be seen today from the platform through which one enters the Crypt of the Birth of Mary.

As early as the 15th century, the Franciscans obtained a firman that allowed them to celebrate Mass (which was done with difficulty and fear) on 8 September, the feast of the Virgin’s birth, and on 8 December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1856, after the Crimean War, the building was given to France by Sultan ABDUL MAJID. The church, carefully restored, was entrusted in 1878 to the care of the White Fathers founded by Cardinal Charles LAVIGERIE.

During the 1967 war, the basilica and its dome were badly damaged by Israeli bombing. In the following years, the church was restored under the direction of the architects M. TROUVELOT and P. COUASNON OP.

On 14 July 1971, France’s National Day, it was solemnly reopened for worship.

Youth Migration in Khartoum: Joys and Challenges (EAP Flashes March 2021)

Youth Migration in Khartoum: Joys and Challenges

MUGALIHYA MACARA Fidèle - St. Stephen’s Parish, Hajj Yousif


Experience has shown that migration is as old as human history. Migration does not only occur among human beings, animals also migrate looking for safety or green pasture. Speaking of “Youths and Migration in Khartoum: Joys and challenges”, we can ask ourselves how Khartoum is a green pasture for young people who are searching for a better life. What are the push actors and pull factors for youth migration in Khartoum? What are the challenges of migrants or refugees in Khartoum? What is our pastoral approach to the youths in our parish, St Stephen, Hajj Yousif?

Definition and causes of migration

According to the dictionary, human migration involves the movements of people from one place to another with the intention of settling permanently or temporarily at a new location. With regard to this, there are many youth migrants in Khartoum who come from upcountry and from neighbouring countries like Ethiopia, Eretria and South Sudan. They flee from their countries because of different causes: socio-economic reasons (unemployment), political (insecurity and war). Young people see Khartoum as a place offering opportunities for employment, studies, health facilities and possibly for establishing themselves in another country. According to the UN data, the population of Khartoum estimation in 2020 was 5,829,000 of which young people are the majority.

Accommodation and work

Most of migrant youths rent small houses with their migrant friends. Some of them live with their relatives who have settled before as a family (many of these families live in refugee camps) while others live in buildings under construction. Very few live with their family who have means to rent houses. Youth migrants, especially girls, are found working in well off Arab families for daily wages. The boys work mostly in construction building, in factories and other small jobs to sustain their daily living and at times to pay for their schools fees themselves.

Social Challenges

The integration of these youths in urban areas is not easy, because they face challenges of social exclusion, family disruption, lack of social protection, working in the informal sector. For Christians, the church has become one of the places of social integration, recreation, meeting, and entertainment. It is important to mention that 99% of our parishioners are South Sudanese refugees and the majority of them are young people and children. There are a large number of children who do not go to school and young people who drop out of school because of difficulties of life. So many young people are jobless and desperate about their future. As a consequence, some youths are facing problems of drug abuse leading the boys to commit criminal acts and the girls to get early pregnancies because of promiscuity and poor education. In short, there is a problem of moral degradation leading to bad behaviour, especially in refugee camps.

Pastoral response to the youths in our parish

Our pastoral youth ministry has the vision of accompanying young people through a holistic Christian formation taking into consideration their human, psychological and spiritual development. To realise this vision, youth activities are organised in three major areas: spiritual activities (prayers, Bible sharing, recollection, youth Catechesis), cultural activities (cultural dance, music, drama) and sports activities (football and volleyball). Youth programmes and activities offer to our youths the opportunities of an ongoing human and Christian formation in nurturing their God-given talents and gifts, and of mentorship through behavioural change programmes and team work. These activities help the youths to know Jesus Christ and to integrate better in the church and in the society. They are strengthened inwardly to face their daily struggle and challenges with patience, hope and faith in God. Also they are formed to stand firm in the Catholic faith and tradition with respect for the dignity of people from other churches and religions, especially the Muslims. We are also convinced that when young people have a good faith foundation, they become good evangelisers of their peers because they know their language better.

Our mission through all those activities is to bring the youths together regardless of their origins to express their talents, develop their gifts and at times their passion may become their career. Those activities also have a healing impact on the trauma caused by the bad experiences of war and the persistence of tribalism. And so the Youth Ministry has been promoting mutual acceptance and peaceful cohabitation among all the tribes of South Sudan in sowing in young people and children the seeds of love, unity, peace, justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.


The situation of youth migration, seen with the eyes of faith, is a blessing and a joy for the Archdiocese of Khartoum. Without South Sudanese refugees, many parishes would have closed. However, the local Church cannot really rejoice much over the fact that those migrants are forced to live at the margins of society against their own will, despite their abilities to live a better life. The good news is that the young people, together with the children, being the majority in our parishes, the future of the local church is ensured, both in Sudan and in South Sudan.

Further news from Ethiopia

News from our American confrère Paul Reilly from Adrigat, Tigray, Northern Ethiopia received today 27 December

Apologies for the  quality as the posts are written on tablet from a bed hospital.

Dear family, friends, confreres, everyone…

First off, I am alive, safe and sound. Just yesterday (December 26th), I managed, along with two other M.Afr. priests, one religious sister, and five M.Afr. seminarians (aspirants), to get out of the Tigray region where we have been living in the midst of a terrible civil war since the night of 3/4 November. The journey was long (13 hour drive) to get here to our Missionaries of Africa community in Kombolcha, where I am now. We weren’t sure that we could get out and had no idea what would happen to us along the way, but by the middle of last week we had started to hear that vehicles were moving along the roads again and we just had to try. The situation in Tigray is still very dangerous and things change daily depending upon where new fighting breaks out, but our journey went as well as it could have. There were plenty of military checkpoints, but we managed to pass without difficulty. So now I am out of danger and in a safe place, thanks be to God and to all those who kept us in their prayers.

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to keep in touch during this difficult time. Since 3/4 November, all lines of communication were cut and still are in Adigrat. Once the TPLF forces abandoned the town on 20th November, we lost all electricity and water for one month, before they were restored about a week ago. Food was getting scarce and the banks have been closed since the beginning of the war, so cash to buy even things on the black market was scarce as well. When the TPLF forces left, Eritrean soldiers took over the town and have been in control without mercy since. Many people were killed, property looted and fear has become a way of life for everyone there, including our community.

Thankfully, all of the priests and sisters (including M.Afr. confreres) working in the diocese are alive (according to the information we currently have available). More than that, I can’t say for sure. At the moment, four Missionaries of Africa confreres remain in Adigrat. They are fine, but the security situation is still very disturbing. Please keep them and all the people of Adigrat in your prayers, as no matter what you hear in the international media, this conflict is far from over and peace has definitely not yet come to northern Ethiopia.

As for me, I’m fine… all I can write for now is that it was a difficult time… more details will have to come later as I don’t want to write them down in a general email. I think I will need time to recover and process all this. For sure, we all managed to stay safe thanks to your support and prayers and for that I am eternally grateful. Please let anyone else concerned about me know that I am ok and we can be in touch on a personal basis later. For now, I look forward to some rest and the peace of mind to know that I am no longer in danger. For those who remain in Adigrat, we keep them all at the forefront of our minds and in our daily prayers.

Thank you all for your concern for me which means so much. May 2021 be a better year for all of us and may the Prince of Peace bless and heal Ethiopia!

Blessings to all,


Living under critical conditions in Ethiopia

Living under critical conditions in Ethiopia

EPO Delegate Superior

Here is a letter we just received from the Delegate Superior of Ethiopia, giving some news of what they are enduring these days with their dear people of Ethiopia.I have just commnicated with the Delegate and we agreed that the names be removed for evident reasons of security. Those who want to know more can consult the Book of Personnel. Let us join with them in prayer for Peace is this beautiful land.

Philippe Docq, M.Afr.

Photo from NY Times

The crisis

The Ethiopian Government forces launched military operations in Tigray (Northern Region) 12 days ago after the government accused local authorities of attacking a military camp and attempting to loot military assets. The TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front), which is in power in the region, denies the charge and has accused the prime minister (Abiy Ahmed) of concocting the story to justify the offensive. Since the war started, air strikes and ground combat between government forces and the TPLF have killed hundreds of people, and losses of properties and so far 25,000 refugees have crossed into Sudan.

We now hear that in Tigray region all the communications are shut down (no telephone, no internet, and no movement, no electricity) and media are barred. We can hardly get any information from that region apart from what the government of Ethiopia puts on National TV and other media.

We also hear that people are struggling to get food, water and medicine. It is indeed a critical humanitarian situation.

Where are the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) in Ethiopia ?

In Ethiopia, the M.Afr have communities in three places which are Adigrat, Wukro and Kombolcha. Kombolcha is in Amhara region in the central part of Ethiopia and so far this community is safe. In this community we have 2 Missionaries of Africa and one Stagiaire.
Adigrat and Wukro are within Tigray region where the war is. In Adigrat we have seven confreres. We also have one Missionary of Africa in a place called Abiy Adi at some 120 km away from Adigrat. In Adigrat we also have 5 seminarians who are in the pre first cycle (St Paul Formation house).

In Wukro community we have one missionary of Africa who right now is in Spain and two diocesan priests. We also have more than 20 workers in both communities.

Our concern and cry

Since the beginning of the conflict we have no news from our confreres in Adigrat and Wukro. Are they safe? Are they still in their communities? Have they fled? Do they have food or water? We have no information.

I have tried to contact International Red Cross (ICRC) offices in Addis to see if they could help me get some information on our confreres in Tigray and so far they have not yet succeeded. I have also made attempts to reach the Bishop of Adigrat and the Diocesan offices but in vain. It is really very worrying not to know about our confreres and so we are asking you and all the people of good will to pray for our confreres and the entire Ethiopia so that peace may prevail again in this beautiful country.

EPO Delegate Superior
18th November 2020

Birth of Mary at St Anne’s (Jerusalem) by the Franciscans

For a long time, the Missionaries of Africa have had the privilege of taking care of the site where, traditionally, Mother Mary was born. It is in the old Town of Jerusalem that the Crusaders built, in 1104, a Church dedicated to St Anne, the mother of Mary. Every year, on the 8th of september, the feast of the birth of Mary is celebrated. It is normally a magnificient celebration where the Church is filled with many French faithful. This year, the celebration was rather strange, as the confinement regulations prevented regular participants from attending the festivities. Here below, you can see a few photos, taken by Nadim Asfour (CTS). You wll find as well a link to the webpage dedicated to that day, and a video dedicated to the feast of the Birth of Mary in St Anne’s.