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Bishops in Africa Demand “immediate laying down of arms” in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

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Catholic Bishops in Africa have, under their collective forum of Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), added their voice to those of other Bishops in Eastern Africa and international leaders in expressing concerns about the violent conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

In a statement circulated Tuesday, December 8, the Bishops in Africa express their awareness about the “deteriorating situation” in Ethiopia’s Tigray and call for the “immediate laying down of arms.”

“We the members of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) have followed with deep concern the deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia,” the members of SECAM say in a statement obtained by ACI Africa.

In the statement dated Saturday, December 5, SECAM members decry the “growing humanitarian and security crisis not only in Tigray but in neighboring Eritrea and Sudan.”

“Several innocent people have died, while many others have been displaced,” Bishops in Africa bemoan in the statement signed by the President of SECAM, Phillippe Cardinal Ouedraogo.

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The Church leaders on the African continent say that they join Pope Francis and the Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia in “passionately pleading” for an end to the violence in the Northern region of the Horn of Africa country. 

Tigray region has been the scene of violence since November 4 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed-led government ordered a military offensive against the authorities in the state. 

The military offensive was in response to the alleged attack on Ethiopia’s largest military base located in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle by forces loyal to the region’s government.

In a statement issued November 4, Catholic Bishops in Ethiopia urged the parties in conflict in the Horn of Africa nation “to resolve their differences amicably, in a spirit of respect, understanding, and trust.” 

On November 8, the Holy Father said he was “following with concern the news arriving from Ethiopia,” adding, “While I urge that the temptation of an armed conflict be rejected, I invite everyone to prayer and to fraternal respect, to dialogue and to a peaceful end to the disagreements.”

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On November 13, members of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) expressed their solidarity with the people of God in Tigray and appealed to “the Federal Government of Ethiopia and TPLF to stop fueling this conflict by military operations and accusing each other of the deadly events that are happening.”

The conflict has reportedly claims hundreds of human life so far and displaced tens of thousands into neighboring Sudan. UNHCR has reported that 45,449 Ethiopians from the warring Tigray region are seeking refuge in neighboring Sudan. 

On November 26, Prime Minister Abiy reportedly ordered a “final phase” of an offensive in the country’s Northern region after 72-hour ultimatum given to TPLF to surrender expired. 

Although the Prime Minister said Ethiopia’s military had captured Mekelle and the conflict was complete, media has reported that violence is still persistent.  

In the December 5 statement, members of SECAM make reference to Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti saying, “We are all brothers and sisters; children of the same earth” and that “each human person is a child of God.”

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“We are all ‘travelling companions, truly brothers and sisters’ and thus should be each other's keeper,” they say, referencing the book of Genesis.

As a way forward, Catholic Bishops in Africa call for the “immediate laying down of arms, on the part of everyone involved in the conflict.” 

They urge the parties in conflict to “resolve their differences amicably through open dialogue, and in a spirit of brotherhood, respect, understanding, and reconciliation.”

The members of the Ghana-based Symposium appeal to local, national and international security personnel and agents to “safeguard the lives of all the people, especially civilians, and to restore peace in the region.”

They also invite the Church, civil society organizations and all people of good conscience to provide basic needs like food, water, and clothing to the displaced people as a sign of solidarity with them.

“We lastly call on all Christians on the continent and the islands to intensify prayer to God for an end to the conflict, and for the return of peace and normalcy in the region,” the members of the 51-year-old Symposium that brings together Catholic Bishops in Africa and Madagascar.

In the December 5 statement, SECAM members further make reference to their February 2020 statement dubbed “Silencing the Guns” in which they called for an end to violence and bloodshed in Africa.

“Let us, therefore, always bear in mind that any form of violence perpetrated against a fellow human being is an offence against God and a violation of the person's dignity. For each human being is created in the image and likeness of God,” the Bishops say in reference to their February statement, citing the book of Genesis.

They assure the people of God in Ethiopia’s Tigray region of their “spiritual closeness” amid the ongoing crisis saying, “As we continue to pray for you, look up to God with hope; He suffers with you and has not abandoned you. Courage!”