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Ethiopia’s Situation of War Main Focus of Catholic Bishops’ Recent Plenary Assembly

Members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia (CBCE). Credit: Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat/Facebook

The latest Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia focused on the situation of war in the Horn of Africa nation that is its second year, they have said in their collective message shared with ACI Africa.

In the message circulated on December 22 following their 52nd Plenary Assembly that had concluded a week earlier, members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia (CBCE) highlight the negative impact of violent conflicts and that say they “have been intensely praying for peace in our country”.

“The main focus of our assembly's deliberation was the current situation of our country and the Church's response,” CBCE members say in reference to their four-day Plenary Assembly that concluded on December 16.

They add about the fighting that broke out on 4 November 2020 in Ethiopia’s Tigray region after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent federal troops to fight the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), “From the outset of the conflicts and war in our country we have been issuing statements and we have been pleading with all actors to understand the consequences and we were urging to choose dialogue over conflict.”

“War always brings devastation, loss of life, loss of property, breaking up of communities, displacement and other related: human crisis. It brings emotional, social, economic crisis to the society and this is what is happening in Ethiopia,” Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia say.

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In their own country, they confirm cases of murder and rape among other multiple loses, which they bemoan.

“Many have lost their lives, many are displaced, many have lost their properties, many are imprisoned, many girls and women are raped, social harmony which has existed between people have been seriously affected. Many people live in fear and uncertainty,” CBCE members say.

They describe the atrocities and loses in their country as “heart-breaking” and sources of “great sorrow and sadness”.

“We believe that together with the sound of the church bells should echo the voice of hope, love, peace, reconciliation and fraternity,” the Catholic Church leaders say in their message inspired by a verse from the book of Revelation, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes ...”

They add, “Our trust in God is firm and we believe this darkness will change.”

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Days after CBCE members’ collective message, Abiy Ahmed-led government reportedly announced that it would hold back its troops from entering the Tigray region. This was after the leadership of the TPLF retreated its forces to Tigray region.

Analysts have interpreted the December 20 announcement by the Tigrayan forces to retreat and that by the federal government to pause further attacks in the region of Tigray as indicative of “a window for ceasefire after thirteen months of devastating war,” Voice of America reported.

In their collective message following their Plenary Assembly held at Modjo Consolata Fathers pastoral center from December 13-16, Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia say they “have been intensely praying for peace in our country, for members of the assembly who could not join us due to either the war or health and other reasons.”

“We have also prayed for our church, for the clergy, religious men and women, and especially for all pastoral agents who serve the church and for the all the faithful,” CBCE members further say, and add, “Prayer is definitely one of the most powerful instruments for bringing about change.”

Prayer is powerful, they explain, because it “brings about change in our hearts; it opens up our hearts to God and to one another; it instills hope; it helps us to avoid hate speech; it puts us in a position where we can see things from a perspective hidden or unknown to others; and it dispels the prejudices, grudges and ill will we may harbor inside. Prayer helps us to see a brother/a sister in the person.”

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“We certainly need prayer at the moment: prayer for our country, prayer for those who take decisions that matters the lives of the citizens of this country, prayer for those who are suffering hunger, thirst, illness, rejection, lack of basic necessities, for those who are displaced and imprisoned,” Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia say.

In their collective message addressed to “all the Catholic Clergy, Religious men and women, the lay faithful and people of good will,” the Catholic Church leaders reconfirm their “firm trust in God” and say that it is “knowing (that) God has the power to change our difficulties that we have been praying and have continued to invite all to pray for peace.”

They invite the people of God in the Horn of Africa nation to a serious examination of conscience and resolve to foster peace.

“As Christians, as Catholics, each and every one of us should be able to stand up and declare unreservedly and unconditionally, like the Psalmist, ‘I am for peace’. The way of peace reconciles conflicts and regenerates the beauty of fraternity, which heals all wounds,” CBCE members say.

They add, “We ought to help one another to believe in the patient and unassuming power of dialogue. A culture of dialogue should be encouraged within the society and the Church will play her role in an eventual inclusive national dialogue in Ethiopia.”

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“As religious leaders our voice shall be a voice that promotes fraternity, unity among communities, a voice that gives hope to people who suffer and with our good model of fraternal love influence the society,” Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia say in their four-page collective message shared with ACI Africa December 22.

They highlight the Catholic Church’s contribution to address the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia adding that the Church “shall continue to scale up her efforts as her mission calls her to suffer with people who suffer, share the pains and the anxieties of humanity.”

“The Catholic Church shall raise Eth. Birr 100,000,000 (US$2 million) with the support of Church partners, local Catholic Institutions and Catholic faithful to support the people in crisis due to war and other natural crisis and in the effort of rehabilitation of the country,” CBCE members reveal.

The Catholic Church in Ethiopia, they add, “will try her best to alleviate the suffering of the people together with all actors.”

“We would like to invite all Catholics and people of good will of our country as did the Holy Father to the people in Greece to ask for the grace to believe that with God things really do change, that he will banish our fears, heal our wounds, turn our arid places into springs of water,” the Bishops say in reference to Pope Francis’ visit to Cyprus and Greece earlier this month.

They add, “Let us ask for the grace of hope, since hope revives our faith and rekindles our charity. It is for this hope that the deserts of today's world are thirsting. It is our responsibility as Ethiopians to heal the wounds of one another.”

“During this assembly we have also discussed in detail on the synodal journey of our church. We have agreed to facilitate the synodal journey to be an opportunity in which priests, religious, parishioners, youth, and children could take part and make it a style of life of the church in Ethiopia,” CBCE members further say.

“May the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ which we are look forward to celebrating soon, be a joyful celebration of peace and reconciliation,” Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia say, and add, “May God protect Ethiopia and bless the people with grace and peace! Amen!!!”